.
T

he forces of globalization, post-industrialization, and more are inherently impersonal. They are so large and so complex that they largely defy true comprehension, let alone appreciation. You can’t grip globalization or grasp the transition to the information economy—much like the wind, you can only see the effects. And therein lies the rub of policymaking and its effects. Legislators and civil servants whether in Washington, London, Brussels, or Beijing, define policy, but are often divorced from its effects, comfortably ensconced as they are in their capital city cocoons. Citizens can and do, of course, raise their concerns to local, state, and federal representatives, but more often than not it is received in passing, or, at worst, used as political set dressing and little else.

There is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century | Fiona Hill | Mariner Books | October 2021.

To truly understand the effects of political, social, and economic policies, stories from the ground are needed, but stories that are married up with an appreciation of how those forces came to reshape cities and communities, and how they are not unique to one area or another. Dr. Fiona Hill, an Anglo-American Russia expert (co-author of the outstanding “Mr. Putin”) and one-time Trump administration official, offers a richly complex look at the impact of policies through the lens of her own life in her new book “There is Nothing for You Here.”

Hill’s book is, in reality, several in one. At a top level there is her memoir of how she managed to go from the North East of England and an impoverished background to the White House. There is an exploration of class, gender, and racial discrimination that she both experienced and witnessed in this journey, and a discussion of how those biases prevent upward mobility. There is further still a comparison of post-industrial America, Britain, and Russia. And there is also a seemingly obligatory dive into her time at the White House.

This last element is near ubiquitous in this day and age, with everyone tangentially connected to the Trump administration offering their insider’s account of what they saw, the dysfunction they experienced, and what it meant for America. This provides the hook for the opening of her book—her impeachment hearing testimony about her background and journey from poverty to the White House.

To be sure, her involvement in the president’s actions and path to impeachment are interesting, but pale in comparison in interest to her diagnoses of the problems facing the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia. She was witness to the impact of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s policies and the collapse of coal in England—her father a coal miner lost his job as the mines closed, becoming a hospital porter to make ends meet. She writes about how the closure of the mines disrupted society at all levels. Whole communities lost their livelihoods, ending up on the dole of the state, struggling to make ends meet. With little support from London, her hometown and many like it, went from the towering heights of industrialization to the depths of poverty and despair. She writes eloquently how little policy changes have outsized effects—changing a bus route or removing a bus stop will have considerable secondary and tertiary effects for those reliant on it to get to their jobs. It will limit the geographic mobility of citizens, forcing them to stay in employment and food deserts. An acute impact is graphically evident in the Covid-related stay-at-home orders.

Indeed, it is the very absence of potential opportunity and upward mobility that led Hill—through exceptional hard work and not an insignificant bit of luck—to leave what could have easily been a perpetual economic trap, travel to Harvard, and reach the heights of American policymaking. Yet, as she writes, her journey should not be the exception to the rule, but the normal course of many. Indeed, equity of opportunity starts with education, a subject to which she frequently returns. Education should be the great equalizer and leveler, but in-built systemic weaknesses perpetuate discrimination and disadvantageous situations, something she vividly experienced and about which she evocatively writes.

Being subject to forces like globalization and post-industrialization, feeling abandoned by the state while other segments flourish and thrive, and a sense of helplessness create conditions for populism—whether left- or right-wing in flavor—to flourish. Hill identifies similar conditions in the United States, leading to Trump’s success, in England, giving rise to Nigel Farage (the leader of UKIP), and Putin in Russia. In Hill’s telling, each found their footing in post-industrial conditions in their respective countries, vilifying an “other” and providing the aggrieved with an enemy on which to place for their frustration, resentment, and alienation be it the “deep state” in America, the European Union in England, or the West in Russia.

It is a touch disappointing then that there isn’t more of the comparative politics between Washington, London, and Moscow that Hill teases and outlines at varying points in the book. She taps into an under-mined seam of analysis as to how the United States and United Kingdom compared to a pre-collapse Soviet Union and post-collapse modern Russia, but I was left wanting more. One hopes that she will spin this off into a separate book or essay.

Her exploration as to how President Trump compared to President Putin was fascinating more so for how they were different rather than how they were similar. In Hill’s telling, Trump’s behavior if not intent was for division rather than unity. His use of social media was intended to exacerbate differences. By contrast, Putin was and remains, in Hill’s telling, reticent to exploit social divisions within Russia, choosing to advance a singular unitary narrative of “Russia-ness” for the country. Putin was truly working class, having grown up poor, and could authentically connect with the common Russian in a way that the billionaire Trump never could. Putin was also careful not to demonize the “deep state” as he was, of course, a card-carrying member of the KGB and a full member of the siloviki.  

Ultimately, in Hill’s assessment, the United States critically needs a realignment of social and economic policies to heal the divisions within the country. Above all else, the country needs a radical focus on education as a vehicle for upward mobility. As she argues, her journey should not be the exception to the rule, but the rule itself. There is indeed merit in her comments. Education is the great-leveler and should create a more balanced playing field. The problem is in implementation and execution, to say nothing of diagnosing the problem at its core. Is it insufficient funding for schools? Is it what the schools teach? Is it underqualified or underpaid teachers, or both? Is it the absence of parental involvement and engagement in student’s lives? Is it all of the above and more?

While Hill does identify the challenges of an uneven fiscal and physical geography in access to education and opportunity, she misses a step. As a country the United States is unable to agree on what students should be taught. The vast majority of education-related discussion at present appears to be fixated on politically expedient red herrings such as Critical Race Theory, transgender inclusion, masks mandates, and other social issues—the merits of which are being aggressively, if not violently, debated—that are obfuscating the broader and more pressing challenge: creating students that are prepared for a globally competitive playing field. “Can our students read, write, and think critically?” should be a first question, and here, arguably, much of the educational system is found wanting.

Hill also calls for more unified and focused socio-economic policies and a large intervention by the government to address the effects of globalization and post-industrialization. At the macro-level, she suggests the government should define the large-scale objectives and create programs accordingly, and leave space for the private sector to support these endeavors. While there is some merit to this approach, the legislative, budgetary, and federal bloat that accompanies such a method—a common critique of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” program, and other national-level infrastructure and development programs around the world—risks undercutting the lofty goals policymakers often aim to achieve.

“There is Nothing for You Here” attempts to be many things in one volume. It is an exceptionally well-written and poignant memoir, which could easily stand on its own. It is also, at times, a comparative look at the post-industrial, struggles of communities hit hardest by globalization in America, England, and Russia, and the figures that rose to prominence in each. (Farage is decidedly the smallest, in prominence, not stature, of the three). It is also a call to arms to address, largely through education, growing inequality and persistent discrimination. At its core, Hill’s book is a vivid illustration of the often-painful effects of policy on “average” people, something that is critically needed as society collectively attempts to grapple with a future that is rapidly accelerating toward our present.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

Seeking a Better American Future

Photo by Masaaki Komori via Unsplash.

October 23, 2021

Fiona Hill’s new book “There is Nothing for You Here” is a vivid illustration of the often-painful effects of policy on average people, something that is critically needed as society collectively attempts to grapple with a future that is rapidly accelerating toward our present.

T

he forces of globalization, post-industrialization, and more are inherently impersonal. They are so large and so complex that they largely defy true comprehension, let alone appreciation. You can’t grip globalization or grasp the transition to the information economy—much like the wind, you can only see the effects. And therein lies the rub of policymaking and its effects. Legislators and civil servants whether in Washington, London, Brussels, or Beijing, define policy, but are often divorced from its effects, comfortably ensconced as they are in their capital city cocoons. Citizens can and do, of course, raise their concerns to local, state, and federal representatives, but more often than not it is received in passing, or, at worst, used as political set dressing and little else.

There is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century | Fiona Hill | Mariner Books | October 2021.

To truly understand the effects of political, social, and economic policies, stories from the ground are needed, but stories that are married up with an appreciation of how those forces came to reshape cities and communities, and how they are not unique to one area or another. Dr. Fiona Hill, an Anglo-American Russia expert (co-author of the outstanding “Mr. Putin”) and one-time Trump administration official, offers a richly complex look at the impact of policies through the lens of her own life in her new book “There is Nothing for You Here.”

Hill’s book is, in reality, several in one. At a top level there is her memoir of how she managed to go from the North East of England and an impoverished background to the White House. There is an exploration of class, gender, and racial discrimination that she both experienced and witnessed in this journey, and a discussion of how those biases prevent upward mobility. There is further still a comparison of post-industrial America, Britain, and Russia. And there is also a seemingly obligatory dive into her time at the White House.

This last element is near ubiquitous in this day and age, with everyone tangentially connected to the Trump administration offering their insider’s account of what they saw, the dysfunction they experienced, and what it meant for America. This provides the hook for the opening of her book—her impeachment hearing testimony about her background and journey from poverty to the White House.

To be sure, her involvement in the president’s actions and path to impeachment are interesting, but pale in comparison in interest to her diagnoses of the problems facing the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia. She was witness to the impact of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s policies and the collapse of coal in England—her father a coal miner lost his job as the mines closed, becoming a hospital porter to make ends meet. She writes about how the closure of the mines disrupted society at all levels. Whole communities lost their livelihoods, ending up on the dole of the state, struggling to make ends meet. With little support from London, her hometown and many like it, went from the towering heights of industrialization to the depths of poverty and despair. She writes eloquently how little policy changes have outsized effects—changing a bus route or removing a bus stop will have considerable secondary and tertiary effects for those reliant on it to get to their jobs. It will limit the geographic mobility of citizens, forcing them to stay in employment and food deserts. An acute impact is graphically evident in the Covid-related stay-at-home orders.

Indeed, it is the very absence of potential opportunity and upward mobility that led Hill—through exceptional hard work and not an insignificant bit of luck—to leave what could have easily been a perpetual economic trap, travel to Harvard, and reach the heights of American policymaking. Yet, as she writes, her journey should not be the exception to the rule, but the normal course of many. Indeed, equity of opportunity starts with education, a subject to which she frequently returns. Education should be the great equalizer and leveler, but in-built systemic weaknesses perpetuate discrimination and disadvantageous situations, something she vividly experienced and about which she evocatively writes.

Being subject to forces like globalization and post-industrialization, feeling abandoned by the state while other segments flourish and thrive, and a sense of helplessness create conditions for populism—whether left- or right-wing in flavor—to flourish. Hill identifies similar conditions in the United States, leading to Trump’s success, in England, giving rise to Nigel Farage (the leader of UKIP), and Putin in Russia. In Hill’s telling, each found their footing in post-industrial conditions in their respective countries, vilifying an “other” and providing the aggrieved with an enemy on which to place for their frustration, resentment, and alienation be it the “deep state” in America, the European Union in England, or the West in Russia.

It is a touch disappointing then that there isn’t more of the comparative politics between Washington, London, and Moscow that Hill teases and outlines at varying points in the book. She taps into an under-mined seam of analysis as to how the United States and United Kingdom compared to a pre-collapse Soviet Union and post-collapse modern Russia, but I was left wanting more. One hopes that she will spin this off into a separate book or essay.

Her exploration as to how President Trump compared to President Putin was fascinating more so for how they were different rather than how they were similar. In Hill’s telling, Trump’s behavior if not intent was for division rather than unity. His use of social media was intended to exacerbate differences. By contrast, Putin was and remains, in Hill’s telling, reticent to exploit social divisions within Russia, choosing to advance a singular unitary narrative of “Russia-ness” for the country. Putin was truly working class, having grown up poor, and could authentically connect with the common Russian in a way that the billionaire Trump never could. Putin was also careful not to demonize the “deep state” as he was, of course, a card-carrying member of the KGB and a full member of the siloviki.  

Ultimately, in Hill’s assessment, the United States critically needs a realignment of social and economic policies to heal the divisions within the country. Above all else, the country needs a radical focus on education as a vehicle for upward mobility. As she argues, her journey should not be the exception to the rule, but the rule itself. There is indeed merit in her comments. Education is the great-leveler and should create a more balanced playing field. The problem is in implementation and execution, to say nothing of diagnosing the problem at its core. Is it insufficient funding for schools? Is it what the schools teach? Is it underqualified or underpaid teachers, or both? Is it the absence of parental involvement and engagement in student’s lives? Is it all of the above and more?

While Hill does identify the challenges of an uneven fiscal and physical geography in access to education and opportunity, she misses a step. As a country the United States is unable to agree on what students should be taught. The vast majority of education-related discussion at present appears to be fixated on politically expedient red herrings such as Critical Race Theory, transgender inclusion, masks mandates, and other social issues—the merits of which are being aggressively, if not violently, debated—that are obfuscating the broader and more pressing challenge: creating students that are prepared for a globally competitive playing field. “Can our students read, write, and think critically?” should be a first question, and here, arguably, much of the educational system is found wanting.

Hill also calls for more unified and focused socio-economic policies and a large intervention by the government to address the effects of globalization and post-industrialization. At the macro-level, she suggests the government should define the large-scale objectives and create programs accordingly, and leave space for the private sector to support these endeavors. While there is some merit to this approach, the legislative, budgetary, and federal bloat that accompanies such a method—a common critique of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” program, and other national-level infrastructure and development programs around the world—risks undercutting the lofty goals policymakers often aim to achieve.

“There is Nothing for You Here” attempts to be many things in one volume. It is an exceptionally well-written and poignant memoir, which could easily stand on its own. It is also, at times, a comparative look at the post-industrial, struggles of communities hit hardest by globalization in America, England, and Russia, and the figures that rose to prominence in each. (Farage is decidedly the smallest, in prominence, not stature, of the three). It is also a call to arms to address, largely through education, growing inequality and persistent discrimination. At its core, Hill’s book is a vivid illustration of the often-painful effects of policy on “average” people, something that is critically needed as society collectively attempts to grapple with a future that is rapidly accelerating toward our present.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.