Wildland | Evan Osnos

Summary of: Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury
By: Evan Osnos

Introduction

In ‘Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury,’ Evan Osnos skillfully interweaves the stories of three distinct American locations – Greenwich, Connecticut, Clarksburg, West Virginia, and Chicago, Illinois – to provide insight into the forces shaping today’s polarized political landscape. The summary will delve into the development of Greenwich as an epicenter of wealth and capitalism, Clarksburg’s decline due to the coal industry, and Chicago’s struggles with racial inequity. Throughout the summary, Osnos explores how these various factors culminate in public frustration, the emergence of a populist political agenda, and the eventual January 6 insurrection.

Greenwich: The Storied Riches of Connecticut’s Hotbed

Greenwich, Connecticut’s upscale history began when the railroad made it accessible in 1848. It became a haven for the wealthiest, who built mansions during the Gilded Age. After these mansions went out of style following the Great Depression, the town adopted a coat of arms bearing simple values such as “courage and thrift.” However, the 2000s found the wealthy returning to their Gilded Age opulence, surpassing it. Greenwich had become the epicenter of a new capitalist vision as financiers and economists began developing high-risk, high-reward investments through hedge funds. The top earners had separated themselves from the rest of the country in many ways, including accumulating individual wealth so high that tax officials monitored the wealthiest taxpayers. As their ethical values shifted away from the general culture, restraint was out of style, and financial gain became the sole value that mattered. Greenwich’s changes reflected broader shifts in the American economic ecosystem.

The Republican Party’s Moderate Wing Disintegrates

Prescott Bush, a politically moderate figure, could have been the one to lead the Republican Party into the new century. However, the party’s moderate wing began disintegrating from the mid-1960s onward. The shift to the right was prompted by J. William Middendorf II, an investment banker who became a disciple of libertarianism, and Barry Goldwater, an Arizona senator with libertarian beliefs. The party’s steady rightward shift became evident when Goldwater won the presidential nomination in 1964, and the moderate wing was denounced at the Republican National Convention. Libertarianism remained largely at the fringes until the rise of talk radio star Rush Limbaugh in the ’90s. The doors blew wide open after moderate Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election to Barack Obama. The party stood at a crossroads between moving left or appealing to missing white voters with a populist disruptor who would rail against the very notion of government.

The Tragedy of Clarksburg

The story of Clarksburg, West Virginia, is a tale of decline that began with a new revolution in mining and was compounded by changes in the way Americans consumed news. In the mid-twentieth century, the city had been a booming hub of activity, but today it is a shell of its former self, suffering from high rates of smoking, obesity, diabetes, and prescription drug abuse. The exodus, which is the highest per-capita in the country, began when companies began buying rights to remove nearby mountaintops in a new mining technique known as mountaintop removal. Meanwhile, young people left the state to find work, reducing the tax pool to fund the city even further. And as print advertising fell across American newspapers by a massive 71 percent, newspapers across the country began collapsing, leaving a deficit in local news, which had previously been a social source of cohesion and connection.

The Great Migration’s Impact

The Great Migration brought Black Americans to Chicago. However, they were met with racism and housing discrimination, resulting in segregation. Chicago’s racist history affected Black Americans like Reese, who struggled with education and eventually ended up in prison. This story highlights the ongoing plight of Black Americans in the US.

America’s Twilight Era

The aftermath of 9/11 led to a new era fueled by fear in America, with the wars in the Middle East seeming like distant conflicts. The resulting uncertainty flushed out deep-rooted fears among Americans which eventually led to a distrust of immigrants, with the Republican party tapping into those fears to stir up support. Donald Trump’s speeches magnified the paranoia even further, relying on false accusations to solidify his anti-immigrant stance. The National Rifle Association also saw a decline in sales and began marketing guns as a form of self-defense with an entirely new aesthetic. Trump seized this opportunity to play on the public’s fear of terrorism, despite violence actually decreasing. Overall, the country was caught in a twilight era of perpetual conflict and paranoia.

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