Rachel Maddow visits MHC

Rachel Maddow stopped at Mount Holyoke College to discuss her book “Blowout,” which examines the oil and gas industry and its relation to corruption.

By Keely Sexton

Stepping onto the stage in Chapin Auditorium on November 17, Rachel Maddow received a standing ovation at the sold-out venue before she even spoke. 

The national television host of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show had come to read from her newly released book, “Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth” and discuss corruption and politics with Kavita Khory ’84, Ruth Lawson Professor of Politics and Carol Hoffmann Collins Director of the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives.

“It’s awesome to be home, it’s awesome to be here,” Maddow said, having called western Massachusetts her residence for more than two decades. 

Maddow undertook researching and writing the book to learn more about why Russia had taken such a global gamble in meddling in the 2016 elections. 

“I’ve been trying to figure out what I can add that is useful to the conversation. The fact that we are now living through a time … when the pillars of democracy feel soft and vulnerable,” she said. She wanted to know, “what are the forces that are weakening democracy, fueling the rise of authoritarianism?” 

Before reading, she polled the audience on their choice of topics from her book: walruses, Alaska or Ukraine.

When the crowd roared its preference for Ukraine, she read her analysis on how the oil and gas industry underwrote the present corruption scandal embroiling the U.S. government, Russia and Ukraine. 

The links between oil-and-gas-based economies, and the inherent weaknesses they have, she explained, leave ample space for those in political power to enrich cronies and middlemen at the expense of democracy and the general population. 

“Where oil revenues flow, government tends to suffer,” she said.  

But that’s not all — the industry is destroying the environment at a rate unprecedented by any other industry, she said, with a nod to the Sunrise and Red Brigade movements who had set up a “Green New Deal Now!” banner outside of Chapin.

After the reading, Maddow took a seat and had an open conversation with Khory. The two discussed the current state of American politics and Maddow’s persistent belief in redemption in spite of it all. 

“There is something coming, which is something the oil and gas industry has never faced before: a reckoning with consequences,” she said, citing Oklahoma as an unlikely beacon of hope. 

When Oklahoma found itself facing a crisis as the oil-and-gas industry that dominated the state also overtook the levers of power, the people of Oklahoma managed to wrest back control of politics and constrain the industry.

“It was Oklahoma teachers and their supporters … who stood up and changed state government policies toward that industry that dominates that state like no other,” Maddow said. “If it can happen in Oklahoma it can happen anywhere.” 

At the end of the conversation, Maddow implored the audience to support journalism and independent bookstores, as information is the cornerstone of democracy. 

When she concluded, the audience rose again in thunderous applause. 

The event was recorded by C-Span and will be broadcast on C-SPAN 2 on Book TV.  The exact air times can be found at www.booktv.org