Current Affairs

Jesse Rubenfeld

Libertarian Rex

How “the king” of St. Louis was defeated—for now—and how you too can topple your local hometown billionaire.

With The Fountainhead in one hand and a chess board in the other, Rex Sinquefield returned to St. Louis in 2009, trumpeted as “The King” coming home to the Midwest. St. Louis Magazine gushed that the libertarian billionaire was going to “use his millions to show the Show-Me State [Missouri] how to succeed.” He was going to privatize the water, defund the public schools, sell off the airport, abolish the earnings tax, outlaw tenure for Missouri teachers, and bring about the libertarian utopia. Yes, Libertarian Rex was coming home to reign as king of flyover country, where the politicians are cheap and the Koch-style AstroTurf money goes a long, long way.

One decade later, in the smoking wreckage of initiatives like Better Together, with acres of libertarian cash on fire and former lackeys in federal prison, Sinquefield seems ready to retire. It’s rumored that he doesn’t do much these days except distance himself from his former shell company, Pelopidas, and play online chess. He also reportedly enjoys chicken salad sandwiches from the local upscale grocer, and spends his afternoons pulling a “Benko Gambit” against Vietnamese teenagers on chess.com.

Sinquefield had big ideas, lots of money, and believed, with the conviction of an apostle, that he could turn St. Louis into a libertarian paradise. So what happened to the Randian billionaire chess master?

Art by Jesse Rubenfeld

Should you find yourself facing off across the checkered tiles, with Rex Sinquefield using 10 knights and seven bishops, and you on the other side with a couple tarnished pawns, here are some tips on how to stave off the attacks of your local libertarian billionaire.

Tip #1: Get them talking. 

The biggest enemies of libertarianism might be libertarians publicly speaking about their ideology. Rex doesn’t give many interviews, especially after 2012 when Sinquefield had to apologize for claiming public schools were the Klan’s idea. In what he claimed was a quote from a former Missouri judge, Sinquefield said, “…a long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African-American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public-school system.”

This isn’t the only time Sinquefield has revealed the ahistoricism, bizarre logic, and smug cruelty of his libertarianism. In his “The Return of the King” coming-home interview of 2009, with the 2008 recession fear on everyone’s mind, St. Louis Magazine asked Sinquefield about a quote by Slate’s Jacob Weisberg. Weisberg had remarked, “A source of mild entertainment amid the financial carnage has been watching libertarians scurrying to explain how the global financial crisis is the result of too much government intervention rather than too little… their heroic view of capitalism makes it difficult for them to accept that markets can be irrational, misunderstand risk, and misallocate resources.” 

“There’s a lot of emotionalism in that,” Sinquefield replied. “If you read it carefully, you see him start ranting and raving.” Sinquefield goes on: “It’s hard to stay cool right now. This is a time of great stress. If the typical working person isn’t a little bit scared, they’re not normal.”

So, what should a normal, terrified, statistically debt-laden, possibly unemployed, downwardly mobile citizen do during a recession? “Stay cool,” Rex said.

According to Sinquefield, there’s nothing to be done about the ominous disparity between rich and poor. “It’s just a matter of statistics,” he explained. “As the sample size grows, the extremes will get farther apart. While the poor are getting richer, someone is going to get extremely rich; the upper end is not bounded.” You don’t have to be a communist to reject Sinquefield’s self-justification here. It was a bad look to sit on a golden throne in 2009, with the subprime mortgage crisis and the African-American community losing half its wealth, and say, “…the market is supremely efficient, and its forces can only improve education and other public enterprises. Taxes are disincentives, so anything taxed will decrease: income, spending, business. Government’s job is to protect our rights and get out of the way. Ours is to be disciplined and patient, work hard, trust the market … and hold back the tears.”

When Sinquefield says it’s the government’s job to protect “our rights,” it’s unclear if he realizes how rarely that happens. It doesn’t seem like he’s talking about the “rights” of an out-of-work machinist, or a debt-laden grad student, or a seasonal farm worker, or the teenager imprisoned for low-level drug crimes, or the homeowners left underwater by mortgages while the banks were bailed out instead. But herein lies one of the more dangerous things about Sinquefield and many billionaires like him: he doesn’t see the discrepancies in his argument as discrepancies at all. He believes that he—and the market—are 100 percent right all the time. In fact, Sinquefield has a comic book origin story to explain why.

Tip #2: Evaluate your libertarian menace; understand them psychologically. 

Just like my own Irish-immigrant grandfather Tom O’Shea, Sinquefield was surrendered to the care of an orphanage as a boy. St. Vincent’s Orphan Home is located in Normandy, Missouri, and now receives generous funding from the libertarian king’s coffers. Raised by nuns along with his brother, Rex slept in a big dorm room with a narrow bed. His father had died of an aortic aneurysm and his mother couldn’t financially support the children. 

As kids, my mother and her sisters also spent time within the church-dominated child services of St. Louis. It’s difficult to recover documents that account for those years, and almost no records survive of my grandfather’s childhood. Horrible things can happen to children in the darkness of these systems accountable to none but The Lord; we know that the nuns of St. Vincent, at least, enforced discipline with a stick.

Discipline and hard work led Sinquefield toward life in the priesthood; he entered a seminary for three years but stayed interested in the stock market, much like his mother. After abruptly leaving the seminary for unclear reasons, he did a stint in the finance corps at Fort Riley during Vietnam. It was an interesting time to be entangled in the nexus of war and finance: the Vietnam war buried the United States in so much debt that President Nixon gave up America’s symbolic control of the world’s currencies, and on August 15th, 1971, the dollar became decoupled from the gold reserves in Fort Knox. This was just one part of the “Nixon Shock” measures, which together plunged the global banking system into a new universe of unbacked currencies and financial instruments which Rex would learn to game.

After the finance corps, Rex attended the University of Chicago, where libertarian dogma is brewed and genocidal dictator Augusto Pinochet is noted for his pro-freedom stance toward the market. Here, Sinquefield’s former passion for The Word of God seems to have been converted into belief in the intrinsic efficiency of the world’s stock and bond markets. They are, he said in 2009, “the only thing that creates order in the universe.”

In the early 1970s, Sinquefield developed the first market-weighted index fund “in the galaxy.” His wife Jeanne, a fellow U. Chicago grad and talented mathematician in her own right, may have been involved; it’s also possible that John McQuown at Wells Fargo actually beat him to it. One way or another, over the next 30 years, Sinquefield became extraordinarily wealthy. In 2008, he gifted $300 million to the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, right before returning to Missouri, ready to be crowned king and wage a holy crusade on state taxes.

Tip #3: It helps if your town is deadlocked in century-old problems that can’t be easily solved. 

From space, looking at the gray cement lump of St. Louis set in the bend of the Mississippi River, you might not be able to see St. Louis’ entrenched divisions. But there’s a well-documented, world-historic, racial divide between north and south plus a divide between country and city, separating east from west and further shattering one of the most segregated urban spaces in the county. This separation has existed for a long time, dating back to the City-County Divorce of 1876.

In practice, each county municipality in St. Louis is a jagged shard of glass, arguing its own contracts, funding its own fire fighters, regulating its own cops, hiring five administrators to do the job that one would perform in a more rationally-devised system. Each municipality has its own public schools, mayors, garbage disposal systems, on and on. Some are glorified tracks of highway plus a Galleria shopping mall; others contain all the McMansions. Clayton is an Arch-less rival downtown commercial district. Other municipalities have outlier infant mortality rates that are closer to Serbia’s than the rest of the United States. 

Many engaged residents who want to see this local chaos resolved agree that the county fiefdoms should unite with the old power downtown—St. Louis City is constantly strapped for cash since white flight swept the tax base out west. Most of the current city budget goes to the cops, who can’t seem to do a single thing about St. Louis crime no matter how many rocket launchers are added to the squad cars. In 2021, $208 million will go to the Metro PD, while just over $30 million will go to “Human Services” (homeless relief, youth and family need, veterans), $12.7 million will go to health and hospitals, and crime will remain high.

Rich county residents, on the other hand, often frame uniting as a “bail out” for St. Louis City, playing up the invisible line between them and us. The city is said to be dangerous, careless with money, have a crime problem, dirty, not like it used to be: all obvious racist code for “Black people live there.” And yet, when asked where they hail from, everyone in the wealthy suburb of Chesterfield lies and says they’re from St. Louis, born and raised.

Although St. Louis’ political divisions ended up contributing to Sinquefield’s downfall, the area is already a paradise for wealthy libertarians. Don’t like the property taxes over in Maplewood? Go check what the offer is in Richmond Heights, two blocks over. The big winners of the city-county split tend to be billion-dollar companies, giant hospital complexes, fickle developers, and snooty universities. But the police benefit too: in a balkanized county, cops with anger issues get kicked out of an okay department and start work at another up town a week later, in a Blacker neighborhood.

Darren Wilson, the officer who murdered Michael Brown, wanted to work in one of the 50 municipalities in North County—the poorer, Blacker part of St. Louis—as a career move: “If you go there and you do three to five years, get your experience, you can kind of write your own ticket,” Wilson told the New Yorker in 2013. Most of his job up north was to “issue countless traffic tickets and ordinance-violation citations.” In these poor municipalities, the revenues from tickets and citations pay the local bills. These mini-cities remain constantly cash-strapped; the police officers themselves aren’t paid very well, earning “as little as ten dollars an hour.” The president of the Missouri Fraternal Order of the police told the New Yorker that “the low pay can create ‘unprofessional police officers,’ adding, ‘You get what you pay for.’”

A merger would consolidate these municipalities, forcing a single set of rules under one administration. In theory, you could bring the accountability of the McMansion prep-school district to the occupied apartheid zones where cops write tickets and clean up after shootings (if not carry them out themselves). This is reformist rather than radical—ideally the police ought to be replaced with unarmed mental health professionals and social workers trained in de-escalation with a robust social safety net to back them up—but it would still be easier to move one unified St. Louis in this direction rather than 90 headstrong clans. At the least, a merger would adjust the city’s population to reflect reality. A lot of people live in the greater St. Louis area—the city is the size of Houston, and is never treated that way by state or federal authorities, especially when it comes to aid and investment.

In 2009, it seemed like The King agreed. The stars aligned in the proper constellations, the unobtainable crested the horizon…and then it all fell apart, because the city’s situation remains complex and difficult to solve. 

Also, everyone involved in his scheme was a moron. 

Tip #4: Raw money can only get your libertarian billionaire so far.

Sinquefield actually backed the city-county merger, though for the worst possible reasons. Thinking long-term, he hoped that once he consolidated the region, he could achieve the castling move that Sam Brownback did in 2010. As the New Republic reports, once Brownback had captured the Kansas governor’s office, he “established an Office of the Repealer to take a scythe to regulations on business, he slashed spending on the poor by tightening welfare requirements, he rejected federal Medicaid subsidies and privatized the delivery of Medicaid, and he dissolved four state agencies and eliminated 2,000 state jobs…He was advised by the godfather of supply-side economics himself, the Reagan-era economist Arthur Laffer, who described the reforms as ‘a revolution in a cornfield.’” Of course, the cornfield revolution has been a disaster for Kansas. Especially if you’re a fan of either good schools or roads

The point of Koch-style influence is to buy everyone and everything. Lobby, spend, finance—$10 million PACs are built to support single-ballot initiatives with libertarian goals like abolishing teacher tenure in Missouri. However, it doesn’t always work. Your think tanks can put out reports urging St. Louis to privatize the water, your P.R. shell company can push “Right to Work” legislation with slick ads, but money doesn’t guarantee that your initiatives will pass. The Sinquefield-backed “Right to Work” bill was absolutely crushed in 2018 thanks to the rock-hard will of Missouri union power. Medicaid was expanded in 2020 despite at least $160,000 in Rex checks. Twice, Sinquefield failed to privatize St. Louis’ Lambert Airport, the city’s primary asset, despite giving $600,000 in-kind donations to pro-privatization groups in one year’s attempt. 

But since day one, Rex’s archenemy has been public education. The idea of public education is a nightmare in the libertarian dreamland where I.Q. is the only metric that can properly assess the worth of a mind. From there, you can work your way back through the sadistic logic of the American education system’s emphasis on testing, and come to the conclusion that low test scores are the fault of dumb kids and the nanny state. Schools, in the libertarian view, should be independent laboratories of supply-and-demand knowledge; the first moves Sinquefield ever made juiced the charter school lobbying machine. (He’s also poured tens of millions into state elections including Todd, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” Akin.) 

In 2006, laying the groundwork for his effort to take control of St. Louis politics, Sinquefield put a man named Travis Brown in charge of Pelopidas LLC, his public relations group. Pelopidas is the favorite hatchling of a brood of Sinquefield-funded “interest groups” sporting cursed names like Missourians for a Better Economy, The Show Me Institute, and the one that I interned for in 2012, the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri (CEAM). 

I found out I worked for Rex about mid-way through an unpaid internship at CEAM. (Look, I needed an internship to graduate from Mizzou, and who would have thought this alliance of pro-education children could have a dark side?) I never met The King or Travis Brown, but then, I was a bad intern. Only a select few got invited out to Sinquefield’s 1,000 acre farm in Westphalia, Missouri for a chat about the future. I was better suited to stuffing envelopes with instructions for the local aldermen, lobbying for changes in the education system that, at the time, I didn’t understand.

In 2012, I worked an open house for a CEAM program called “Parent Academy” where the group had convinced itself that predominantly African American parents of public-school kids would give up their Saturday to come hear a presentation from a charter school lobbyist. “I don’t understand why everyone is so afraid of vouchers,” I heard one lawyer whisper to the other as we mulled around an empty conference hall downtown. One family showed up, grabbed some free donuts, and booked it. 

White flight and the Catholic Church beat Rex to the privatized education punch decades ago. St. Louis County’s billion municipalities work to keep local money extremely local—the poor parts of the city have failing publics and failing charters, while the rich parts like Clayton have private prep schools and deluxe publics. All of this is because local taxes stay within shattered municipality lines, and the poor stay poor, and the rich have it all.

A 2015 This American Life episode about school funding noted that Michael Brown’s senior year in the Normandy School District had bleak prospects: “[The district’s] points for academic achievement in English—0, math—0, social studies—0, science—0, points for college placement—0. It seems impossible, but in 11 of 13 measures, the district didn’t earn a single point. 10 out of 140 points, that was its score. It’s like how they say you get points on the SAT just for writing your name. It’s like they got 10 points just for existing. Normandy is the worst district in the state of Missouri.”

Remember, St. Vincent’s Orphanage—Sinquefield’s boyhood home—is in Normandy. Separated by decades, King Rex and Michael Brown grew up down the street from each other. But instead of seeing the potential city-county merger as a way to bolster and redistribute tax money to needy districts, Rex saw the merger as a way to erase all the lines and turn everything into St. Vincent’s—or, more specifically, the godless exploitative charter school version.

Tip #5: Check out who your libertarian billionaire put in charge of the dirty work.

“Better Together” was a nonprofit started in 2013 to push a state constitutional amendment which would merge city and county; an amendment that was supposed to be on the November 2020 ballot. The board of Better Together consisted of 18 people (including George W. Bush’s ambassador to Turkey, for some reason). King Rex was only listed as a “supporter” on the now-defunct Better Together website. However, a keen detective could locate an important clue just by sniffing around the Better Together headquarters: the nonprofit split a literal office with Pelopidas

Rex’s problem was always P.R. There was a sort of generalized feeling in St. Louis government that “you can’t get anything done without Rex,” and while it can be read as fawning admiration for the power in one man’s hands, it also makes Rex sound like a supervillain. The problem with Better Together was that Sinquefield had to manage far too much at once. He had to signal to the business interests in St. Louis: “This merger could happen now that I want it to, come to the bargaining table,” but at the same time, he had to assure the public, unions, and community advocates: “Don’t you worry. I, your feudal regent, have your best interests at heart.” 

We can thank the graceless rollout of Better Together on the man Sinquefield hired to carry out his will. Here’s where your city can get extremely lucky the way St. Louis did: your local billionaire savior may trust a nimrod like Travis Brown to spend the money.

Travis Brown wears bright pink ties, expensive suits, and tends to spend 11 million when he’s bringing in only 10. He’s stocky with thinning hair and beady eyes, resembling nothing so much as an assistant high school football coach. In 2013, Brown “wrote” a book called How Money Walks, featuring a libertarian murderer’s row of Introduction writers—Arthur Laffer and Sinquefield himself included. As Lee Fang describes it in Politico, the book argues, “questionably, that people are driven away by high income taxes and move instead to places with little to no income taxes.” Brown (or his ghostwriter) insists that this is a good thing—billionaires should move to the Midwest, to anti-worker Right-to-Work states, or sponsor Right-to-Work legislation themselves. Purge the heathen unions, install your anti-tax Crusader kingdoms. 

At the Pelopidas headquarters, Brown became fixated on the extra rooms in the office. He bought lava lamps for one, and told everyone he was going to “turn it into a sex room.” The employees turned the other empty space into a mother’s room for the women who had babies to bring to the office, and Brown said he was going to turn this room into a lactation room with a camera installed so he could watch. Also, after a dispute with one employee, Travis brought a triple-barrel shotgun to work the next day to “prove a point.” 

What brought an unhinged flimflam man like Brown into Sinquefield’s orbit? Sinquefield wanted to mold the city in his image, and had all the money to do so, but cities are complicated. The old aristocracy in St. Louis is a cacophony of interests by themselves—to manipulate them you need help, you need consultants, you need people who know how to get things done, or pretend they do. Brown knew the area, he was good at spending money, and he used his employer like an ATM. Every Christmas, Brown would blow $80,000 to $120,000 on an annual party at a fancy hotel. Clients and employees dressed to out-dazzle each other, while Rex and Genie Sinquefield would show up for a quick walk-through. Rex would wear blue jeans and look uncomfortable, and at the end of an hour, The King would Irish goodbye. Brown’s party would go on, promising a win so long as the cash kept flowing.

Tip #6: Learn from your comrades’ cities.

In February of 2019, St. Louis Alderwoman Megan Green analyzed the Better Together proposal on a long flight to D.C. The proposal sounded great as a sound bite; the city and county would merge, redundancy would be cut so that there weren’t 90 different waste removal contracts, it even seemed like wealth would be redistributed on some level. Then Alderwoman Green read the earnings tax clause, and saw a dark future for her city. 

What she saw was Flint. Five years previously, in an effort to run the Michigan city more like a business, Flint had tapped its polluted river to save money transitioning to a new water system. However, as John Patrick Leary summed up succinctly in Jacobin, “Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) failed to add a crucial corrosion control chemical—standard in large municipal systems—that prevents lead from leaching out of old service lines… Michigan’s state environmental regulatory agency oversaw the distribution—for roughly six hundred days—of water that was virtually guaranteed to poison the children of its seventh largest city.” 

Green connected the dots on Better Together’s St. Louis proposal, and realized it was structured around taking power out of elected local control, and placing it in the hands of a debt service board like Flint’s. Not only would the plan remove the city mayor from power, and make County Executive dipshit Steve Stenger the uber-mayor of St. Louis until 2024, it would also phase out the earnings tax over the course of decades, cutting the city’s tax base dramatically. The Better Together pitch said uniting would save money for everyone, and thus pay for the tax cut; uniting would create $40 million in new revenue over 10 years and save taxpayers a whopping $250 million per year by 2026. But those numbers were obviously inflated. The point wasn’t to save money: it was to cripple the tax base as in Brownback’s Kansas, so that year after year, services all over St. Louis City and County would continue to run aground, and privatization would be forced through a debt servicing board, no matter what the public wanted.

The chess pieces were in place, but between the work of Alderwoman Green and legal experts like Nahuel Fefer at Arch City Defenders, the maneuver was discovered in time. Better Together, Green and Fefer realized, was a gambit to manufacture a perfect budgetary storm, one exacerbated by zero earnings tax revenue. In addition, a piece of the proposal that initially looked like an improvement—local control for the police department, meaning that all the cops in the city would be accountable to people who live in the city—was yet another move in Sinquefield’s game. Guess how many lawsuits are brought against St. Louis police officers? It’s a lot. And the city would be responsible for paying out all of them.

Once Better Together was underway, it wouldn’t matter if the savings never racked up. That could be written off as an “oopsie-daisy, we miscalculated the numbers.” The whole point was to push St. Louis into a crisis; using the brutality of the city’s own cops, and a tax-cut crusade, the inevitable financial crisis would open the door to members of the business Illuminati who would be happy to step in and take all those public schools, parks, water system, bridges, and the airport off overburdened public hands. The debt servicing board would facilitate the sell-offs; every school would become a charter, and the valley would bloom, just like Flint, just like Kansas, just like Pinochet’s Chile.

Tip #7: Hope that Team Libertarian can’t keep their mouths shut.

In March of 2019, John Gaskin III of the St. Louis County NAACP held a press conference announcing his organization’s endorsement of the Better Together plan. This endorsement was supposed to be a major point in the proposal’s favor: important representatives from the region’s most disenfranchised group were on Sinquefield’s side. But, Gaskin also admitted at the press conference that he had quit a job in order to take up a paid position advocating for Better Together. Yikes—that was supposed to be a secret. 

Many state and local Black leaders had already been wary of the plan championed by rich white people, and suddenly there was a lot of smoke pouring out of the building.

Things really started popping off as it turned out everyone around the St. Louis County Executive was wearing a wire. Public advocates watched Steve Stenger’s shady property deals with that eerie feeling you get when powerful people are hosting a fire sale between themselves. And Stenger—who, again, was supposed to run the city if Better Together went through—didn’t seem like a great worker. The County Executive “…occasionally showed up for work—even if dressed in shorts and a T-shirt just to play video games.” Then the recordings dropped, and Sinquefield’s would-be super mayor got busted for pay-to-play schemes, bribery, and watching too much Sopranos:

How ‘bout that motherfuckers? I don’t show up to the Council meetings. I don’t do fucking shit. I’ve been sitting at my house for the past two months fucking raising money and then won by 20 percent! The world’s a fucked-up place.

– Steve Stenger

It sure is, in more ways than one—Stenger is serving four years in one of America’s cushiest prisons.

With Better Together mostly dead, Rex must have been irritated at another lost piece in a game that should have been easy. At this point, Travis Brown took one more run at the crown jewel in the city’s asset portfolio—airport privatization canvassers tried gathering enough signatures for their campaign by telling St. Louisans that privatization would help the city and the airport, but this too fell through thanks to grassroots push-back from SEIU Local 1 and the mobilized activists from groups like STL Not For Sale. And there was no general buy-in from the people of St. Louis themselves, who either a) don’t care about changing ownership of the airport, or b) had wised up to the King Rex routine.

Already on thin ice, and accused of writing five-figure checks to himself, Brown went too far in late summer 2020. Using a buddy’s shell company—Metropolitan Strategies and Solutions—Brown pushed for a petition to recall Alderwoman Cara Spencer, a Warren Democrat and a loud opponent of the airport deal. The recall failed, Brown failed to get Better Together on the November 2020 ballot, and Brown’s dirty and useless tricks put Rex over the edge. Sinquefield publicly cut ties with Pelopidas, yelling, “I don’t know those guys,” on the way out the door.

Tip #8: Don’t assume the war is over.

Sinquefield has had one successful St. Louis scheme: he’s made the city the “Chess Capital of the World.” The King’s passion project has now eaten up every building at one of the most trafficked cultural centers in the city, helping to eject 80-year-old restaurants and one of the oldest LGBTQ coffee shops in the state, Coffee Cartel (which had much better ice cream than coffee). Now you can watch masters play at the World Chess Hall of Fame, and if you want expensive food on-par with a fancy hospital cafeteria, just walk next door for a bite at Rex’s Kingside Diner.

Sinquefield may have been unable to implement a full revolution in St. Louis, but the city and county remain flush with his money. In many ways, Sinquefield is part of an old guard: the product of the George W. Bush years, the golden age of libertarian billionaires where Iraq war fervor channeled seamlessly into the Tea Party movement and No Child Left Behind. Sinquefield’s most amazing achievement by far has been to saturate Missouri with dark money; no one knows how many people have cashed a Rex check, but one way or another, if you’re in Missouri politics, you probably have.

And there are plenty of other Rexes in the country. Just as Travis Brown pitched in How Money Walks, rich people have infested states like Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Michigan, cutting taxes, wrecking public schools, and backing right-to-work legislation. Koch Industries operates out of Wichita, in socially strip-mined Kansas. In Missouri, Sinquefield may appear to have failed: he’s an almost 80-year-old man with chicken salad mayonnaise on his keyboard in his Central West End mansion, playing online chess within earshot of the briefly-famous gun couple of July 2020. To many St. Louisans, Rex is regarded as a villain like the McCloskeys. St. Louis may have become a world chess capital, but that doesn’t mean most St. Louisans love chess. St. Louis loves beer, baseball, and Nelly; family cooked meals and a depression-era cheese called Provel which tastes like plastic in a good way. St. Louis wants the Chrysler plant to come back, and for the future to seem liveable.

Can you play a fair game in the World Chess Hall of Fame, inside a building you own, in an organization dependent upon your finances? Maybe that’s why Sinquefield prefers to play against those Vietnamese teens on chess.com. Rex has not always been rich, and he’s aware of how many problems St. Louis really has, but he seems to have convinced himself that his strategy is the only way to make things better, and has tried to rig the game accordingly. With all the advantages in the world, he loses constantly, but I suspect he still hopes to win in the long run, just like Flint, Kansas, and Chile.

More In: Politics

Cover of latest issue of print magazine

Announcing Our Newest Issue

Featuring

It's our longest issue EVER, 96 pages overflowing with art, essays, and surprises. And all done in tasteful black-and-white, to look extra-classy on your coffee table.

The Latest From Current Affairs