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tv   Evan Osnos Wildland - The Making of Americas Fury  CSPAN  October 23, 2021 6:55pm-8:03pm EDT

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television for serious readers. >> good evening, everyone. welcome. i am the co-owner along with my wife. we have a promise to be a very thoughtful and engaging program this evening featuring journalist talking about his new book wild land, the making of
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america security. a couple of brief housekeeping notes first. just click on the q&a button at the bottom of your screens. purchase copies of wildlands. a great reporter who in the early 2000 moved overseas where he ended up staying for a decade. initially, he reported from the middle east for the chicago tribune and then went to china for the trip and shared a prize for investigative reporting. that year he also joined the new yorker. he stated china for several more years before coming back to the united states and settling in washington, d.c. where he has been covering politics and foreign affairs. an excellent book about china age of ambition. a finalist.
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becoming a bestseller. for the last seven or eight years, returning from living abroad. working on another project. understanding serious political fragmentation and polarization in the united states. erosion from some of the foundational beliefs. that is what it is all about. the prologue, overseas in those critical of the u.s. often making the case that throughout america's failings, remaining committed to the principal like the rule of law, the power of truth and equal opportunity. after coming back to this country and seeing how much things have changed, wondering if he had been lying to others and himself to sort of figure out how what happens.
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economically and culturally different communities. he knew already first-hand. west virginia, chicago illinois and connecticut. he combines close up stories about individuals from these places that were broad perspectives and societal change , existing overhaul, quite a compelling site from their. calling the book and elegant survey of the causes of effects of polarization america. the publishers called it an engrossing and revealing at how deeply connected yet far apart americans are. conversation will be a fellow staff writer at the new yorker and the first chinese board staff reporter at the magazine. also working on her first book motherland. publication in 2023.
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>> thank you, brad. >> thank you, brad. i could not be happier to be here. probably because i feel like i always want to see you. >> likewise. >> in the same city. i was showing evan earlier my very heavily annotated copy of the book and it occurred to both evan and me that it was the first time that we were discussing this piece of his work. i am actually very proud of the fact that i was evidence fact checker. many many years ago. [laughter] >> i don't know how many times you saved me.
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>> i was completely spoiled by the quality of the innovations. i kind of came on fullbore and realized some, you know, some other writers will kind of give you these printouts. as they are facts. not surprisingly, what always impressed me about you and your work ethic is your humility and your diligence. when i learned that you were from greenwich, it did not compute. it really threw me for a loop. partly because i also spent, you know, years of my childhood in greenwich. even though my sampling was limited given the people you interact with and, you know, the number of years that i was there, you know, i was really perplexed by a grant which
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native does not reflectively enter the finance industry. .... .... i've only known one of those places very well, which is greenwich. a theme of the book is how insular you become in the places that we live and call our home and how foreign the places are
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geographically to us. i have to admit my story is different and i also was so delighted to learn all of these bits of personal history from the book. i had no idea that your mother was born in morocco and your dad was a jewish refugee and they met in saigon during the vietnam war. [laughter] >> even before we met, i know. our path is different even though both of us who grew up
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there. my impression of greenwich as a child emigrant who brought us their so i could reap the benefits of the education system was for many years in the u.s. i thought they were a kind of white people in the u.s. and that illusion i think trapped me for some time and took me a while to understand how diverse the u.s. is. i want to begin by asking your
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experience growing up in this town and obviously i feel like diligence may be a habit of your personality early on and thoughtfulness. did you think that greenwich was one town like i did or were you more informed as a child than i was? >> before i answer, i want to tell you what a pleasure this is. i've been looking forward to this event will.
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every word written but it's going to be for the book that you did. one of the extraordinary pieces published for a long time and not described in that way it's an extraordinary piece of work about parents and children and countries and the fixation and i learned so much from it as i have from you over the years and i learned from greenwich in fact from that piece. for people who don't know, your mom is this extraordinary person who decided upon landing in the united states and you will correct me if i'm wrong tell me where is the most prosperous place my kid can get the best start in life.
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you are there sharing a twin bed. >> that made me -- when i was reading your book i thought so much about my mother because you know, this book explores so much of the way the game has been rigged in the u.s. and kind of this it's to the late frank. my mother and i, she was a very ordinary doctor in china. we were already privileged but
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she was by no means part of the elite party bureaucracy and i think she knew before she even learned english that you had to get to the best zip code in the u.s. to then reap the benefit of tax dollars and education system. for a long time i thought we both pronounced greenwich as greenwich and i was confused why a greenwich was the mascot of this town that was supposed to be very wealthy and that was my introduction to the place. i was already somewhat aware of the advantages and my mother was willing to make these
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sacrifices. even i i think was somewhat ignorant of that gap with the rest of america and the world and i'm just curious i always wondered was that because i was conditioned to understanding american culture? were you aware of these privileges? >> i think yes is the answer. i've come to this in an oblique way. you described at the outset with my family as a kind of mishmash of different traditions than my father's side of the family and my mother's side of the family all scrambled together and we moved around when i was a kid because my dad was a newspaper
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reporter and by the time i was about 10-years-old, we moved out to greenwich and enrolled me in some of the world's greatest public schools. it was just almost a ludicrously fortunate place to grow up because you know, you almost have to go out of your way as a kid in my position to fail because everything has been stacked to my advantage. let's be clear eyed about it, that is the case and i'm sort of aware of that because we've lived overseas and because i grew up with this kind of muscle memory of my father's family particularly he came to the united states as a refugee and so much of his life was defined by never letting that kind of instability happen again but when there was a chance to move to a place that was kind of a byword in american history for opportunity and prosperity, we
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went. even in a place like the history of greenwich connecticut which is one of the wealthiest places mothers this change over time that's important that i think are also part of the story of how we get to now in our politics. when i was growing up it was a wealthy place, certainly and that was a big piece of how it existed in the world, but it was also not what it is today in the sense of the degree of the statistical basis to put a couple of numbers behind it in 2004, after things began to grow dramatically, the hedge fund portions began to grow and this was because the rates were low after 9/11. there was an extraordinary profusion of cash into the hedge fund world and there was the ranking of the 25 wealthiest or
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most successful in the previous year and ten of them listed as this one town and they had made on average about 207 million in the previous year. and all of that was coming into town at this extraordinarily concentrated rate. i remember talking to a minister that i quoted in the book that said to me i never minister to a flock contending with such a monoculture and i thought there was a powerful idea. this is something you were talking about before, barriers of the barricade, the ways that we encircle our world either deliberately or passively. and that in the end was the basis for what this whole book is about, the idea that because of politics and economics and ultimately technology, we would erect these very years around ourselves in these ways to the point that i think a lot of folks are less aware of the
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vulnerability and suffering than they would have two generations ago and i'm not saying it's the golden age of the embassy to state the obvious. we had massive violence in the same period of time that there was a post war sense of connectivity and part of the reason is i think if we say that they there never was an awareness of other places then what we are doing is saying things haven't gotten worse when they have in measurable ways. so that doesn't mean they couldn't get worse if that fixes anything. >> it absolutely does. and what i found so kind of
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marvelous and to some extent dc and greenwich the way on one end of the spectrum they find continuously new ways of justifying how what they have earned is the result of capitalism, working at its finest and at the bottom rungs in west virginia and inner-city chicago i think they can't even comprehend or imagine what they have been deprived of food theny
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can't live out ever and that distance was astonishing to me and i think in the book it gives us a vivid senses of the lives lived some through your experience and interviews and portions of your family members and others just like understanding how these forces will, what kind of forces have caught this kind of gap. is that something when you were going i know you started the book years ago and in 2014 -- >> it was in 2015 when trump
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entered in a serious way that i began to see him as this sort of profound symptom of distress and we could have a whole discussion about the way that he was and in many ways i think it is the most secluded american. here he is he lives literally in an apartment with his name on the building and the city that he barely ever left in a meaningful way. he was like a walking expression to maximize and sort of exclude any on the savory sensory input. it's like he was kind of this expression of this phenomenon that we have been told about and
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i became fascinated by that and wanted to know how that came to be. >> in the book i explore we talk about both of these adult sons that have their privilege and then our ruling kind of a country that they fundamentally didn't understand but that in some ways they are expert at exploiting. i wanted to ask about because the book started six years ago, did you find that your thesis was evolving as you were writing? because we come up all the way to the primary and i wonder what was the process of writing like? what was the kind of evolving nature of the thesis?
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how did that come about? >> the conditions of the last couple of years in which we have had this absolute avalanche of events, each of which could constitute an entire shelf of literature. you could devote an entire genre to the pandemic where the protests against racial injustice or the effort to steal a presidential election and dispute the result. any one of these. so on one level if somebody was embarking on a book at that period it is quite alarming to think how do i possibly situate these. i had a completely different experience because at that point, this sounds a little funny but it was as a proof of concept the series of things happening were in fact
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confirming evidence to take one at a time. covid was like an x-ray of our national governance and the failures of our politics. the fact that somebody as radically incompetent as donald trump could find himself in the presidency was only made more clear by the moment in national life that called on him to use the word loosely his knowledge of science. that told us more about the way that we choose people to go into that process than it did anything else. then you take the fact of the black lives matter protest and the movement in its own was a final expression of what had been building on the neighborhood level and if you were in chicago, and i will give
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you an example of one of the people i write about in the book of guy was named maurice clark. he was a pretty brilliant student as a kid he was naturally good at math and living in a very distressed neighborhood that had an inferior school. then we got to high school and the system doesn't pay for bus fare for the students at this point and it's one of those moments i think of as like a fork in the road that had there been a system, a program that might have provided bus fare so that he could go to the other high school that he wanted to go to, the entire trajectory could and would have been different as he put it to me he said so began
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my life of crime. he went to the high school and ended up following his brothers in and went off to prison. there was just an extraordinary story of what happened to him after that. but in the particulars i remember reading a lot of the coverage of the black lives matter movement and going to protest and writing about what i was seeing and thinking to myself it was almost like an x-ray of something that had been visible lying in plain sight. so the title of the book is kind of relevant because i chose this idea of wildland not only referring to what the history had come to mean to the many readers which is the sense that we are living in this sort of chaotic environment politically. it's a wildfire that has been building the fuel.
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the fire was growing right in front of us for 30 years and it was only going to take a spark to light it. remember i quoted the chair that said all it takes is a single spark to start a prairie fire. that's how it felt to me. if it hadn't been donald trump honestly something else would have done it but it's this accumulated moment and a cascading set of failures that made it impossible. >> i think that that is captured so well in the book in this remarkable details. many years even before the pandemic you have these metaphors in the way that of the
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virus and the kind of lack of accountability that becomes contagious much earlier. and it made me think about how a society is hollowed out from the inside and it also makes me think a lot about china, as you all are very familiar with. what i kept thinking about, you write about it so well in the book that in a society where the letters of accountability kind of our removed by the extraordinary power that the left individuals hold, there is this sense is that if you are not taking advantage of what you
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are committed to, then somehow you are not manifesting in of ofitself and that mentality becomes so pervasive and contagious. and in greenwich it extends into every single kind of arena in life from the israeli unscrupulous deals made in the financial sector to the frantic's in terms of getting into the best schools and wanting to accumulate as much prestige as possible and i was thinking about how in china i love the way that throughout the
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book kind of the absence of democracy and working into the political system in which it is representing everyone thinks that if they are not taking advantage of what they have accrued through whatever means, then they are not living there best life for somehow they are a sucker. you compare and contrast your experience in both countries in the book and i wondered what you made of that and if you think the u.s. can be a few steps short of the amorality that you see in china and whether china
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is only a few steps away can lift the right political grounding. >> it is such an interesting point. i came back to the u.s. in 2013 at this interesting moment because in china as you know there has been this growing sense of corruption bursting the boundaries of any historical precedent, spin around forever in many places, but it's gone completely berserk. we've written about these examples of the low level that accumulated under the departments or something like that and often times in china i mentioned this in the book i would have these conversations where people would say to me or people i would encounter would say do you have corruption like this in america and i would remember almost a little sheepishly saying no because we have rule of law and vigilant
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courts and systems you cannot hack the way that you would hear. i don't want to say that i was kind of imperious about it but i think i was a little smug in the knowledge that i would come home and sort of be reminded and i would come back at the moment i went to washington and the governor of virginia, the seat once held by thomas jefferson had been charged with corruption for the most outrageous set of things he'd taken $100,000 from a political patron going to his house on the weekends and all of that sort of advance the patrons political states to review this medicine he was making. and i thought i didn't acknowledge to myself to quote
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the old line it's what is legal. he was the governor of virginia and at first convicted. then the court throughout his conviction because they said it didn't satisfy the threshold and legal scholars will tell you that that decision has been catastrophic because it meant things that should be by any reasonable definition corruption shouldn't be allowed but now they are under the law. part of the process i think i'm writing about in this book is a bit of coming to terms with the ways in which some of the mythology is deeply held as a people and a culture and a nation and it can be a bit of a fantasy. the fantasy is that it is static
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and we are somehow redeemed by it. what the book lays out is that it is fragile if we don't call it out and name the people and the places doing damage and i will say i also, the way i would be curious that i come away with this sense that there are people on the ground and i talk about some of them in the book that are doing projects that are willfully determined to not give in to the cynicism and idea that everything is possible. and i'm thinking particularly in chicago of an organization devoted basically to taking kids to neighborhoods he takes the
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rookie cops and brings them into predominantly black neighborhoods and has them give them tours. this is not a solution we are talking about. what i'm talking about is like a pinprick, acknowledging you can do something and it's not out of our hands captive to these grand forces that we got ourselves into this situation. it can be thrilling to know we have it and it is also something we have to own and recognize that we got ourselves into this mess by making choices. >> it is these small but significant decisions that get to the present. the trump phenomenon which you
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go into in the book and not only on the fact, but the existence of the fact. and again, it just made me think about china and the way that they defend themselves because often times the defense is always a distraction or comparing things that don't have relevance and you talk about in the book one of the remarkable things about advertising.
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this is what i've retained from the book is the information more than they are willing or able as true or not. i was happy and grateful to see the book and on this note. but like you said, there are people out there doing the kind of work and making the kind of decisions that not only the foundations for democracy that the growing and thriving. i also wondered what you thought about the information and the disinformation circulating like a virus. i don't know if you've read it
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seems like it might never go away. it's going to be how we operate from now on. and this information and the alienation is just part of the air that we breathe. how do we continue to feel and keep this optimism alive? >> you were so right to draw this comparison. i stashed a quote that said it made a lot of sense to me because assistance that people are routinely lied to, they acquire a peculiar form of cynicism in which she refused to believe anything at all, no matter how true. and that helped me make sense no
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matter the phenomenon i'm describing where people go through the day to be like that's a lie and i'm so protective. what i came to realize is that particularly in some places and parts of this country and the political culture like parts of west virginia, where people have been systematically lied to by the political interests that work on the coal industry in some places and people who feel that they are ripe to lie to people because of advancing their interest it has a way of rubbing somebody's political energy away. there was one of the highest levels of turnout 75% and if you fast-forward to 2014, down to
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46%, almost cut in half. one of the lowest levels in the country and that was a sort of quiet refusal from politics. and part of the reason for that if people came to believe, what was the point? there was something about this that resonates. i remember at one point where a friend who was a chinese journalist said you do this incredible fanatical fact checking process. it was somebody that you called on a fact checking call. he said let's do a public event in beijing at about the fact checking and said we will put out the call and explain the fact checking process. i said we will get a few reporters that would come or students and we show up to these things and there were 300 people sitting in the aisles but nothing to do with me. it had to do with this idea of
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fact checking and then the transcript would circulate on the internet. they would say i read the fact checking tutorial that you gave, and i found that extraordinarily hopeful because what it tells me is there is a desire, people have this desire not to be deceived and so participating in the regime of truth if you can build out the systems to do it for all kinds of reasons that are so many headwinds against china and against the united states, but i have been struck the past couple of weeks, fact checking is an idea because he was doing such violence to the idea that fact checking as an idea has acquired a certain
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intellectual glamour that it's something worth celebrating on its own. so that is a sign to me that we have a longing for it particularly when it is under threat. >> i underlined this in the book you talk about, you discuss the wars and the legacy of 9/11 and about the way that trump capitalizes on the fear that he is able to generate and the insecurity in this kind of devcon five posture which makes them really put on their survivalist helmet rather than thinking about facts and looking
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at what is true and what is not true and it made me think also about that's the way that they are constantly under assault and the party matched this for a long time, the us versus them, the enemy. and when you are in that mentality long enough, all you are looking out for is your survival. there's nothing else. and how to get out from that sense of chaos which i think is so toxic. talking about this a devastating
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story as you mentioned clearly was suffering from ptsd but ended up with four people and the idea that when you feel like you always are in this state of chaos and that is what trump has been so brilliant at doing and keeping it in this state of trauma. we are running out of time, but i wanted to end on a positive note that you write about how having sympathy for others might be one of the ways that we rejuvenate ourselves out of this
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deadlock and i want to ask you some questions about so much of this travel and talking to people who lived in circumstances for what you've known. i am so encouraged by as i said your perspective as a greenwich native and despite growing out with a fair amount of privilege have the curiosity. what makes me scared us from the [inaudible] my parents will be
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stuck in this forever and will never have the curiosity to venture outside of their bubble. you are the father of two personnel. what do you have for cultivating the sense of sympathy and being curious about the lives of others enough to venture out of our bubble? >> there is an absolutely marvelous prescription of brian stephenson, a civil rights lawyer uses. he gives speeches as you know all over the place. get close to people that are suffering because no matter how abstract your concern can be, i
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care about these political values and doing something, you have to get proximate. as he describes these experiences as a first year in law school it wasn't until he worked on cases that transformed his own capacity. they should have term limits in washington, d.c. and i say this the audience or is the reason why the correspondence kind of get up and after five or ten years go somewhere new and you have to start over and get proximate by acknowledging what you don't know and close your mouth and listen.
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i'm grateful to the places that have left me. so many that i've kind of gathered here i'm going to read one out loud that says for the last several years i would say the only thing that will get us out of this situation while we have close to that with the pandemic it is as polarizing as everything else and what does it take to fix it. >> i think a lot of it if you go back historically and look at radical income you can either do
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it through the war, pandemic or revolution which is dire but the truth is that is what history tells us. there was a piece of my mind that said if this is going to be a moment of clarification where we begin to see how dire things are and i think as we can agree the power of tribalism overwhelm them and more than a 600,000 americans have been killed and we are not talking about it in the terms that we should and people still deny the gravity of it is a sign that we are still in the grip of this but i will say basically 75% understand it
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is proven science and it will protect people. they are participating in a fantasy that is dangerous and damaging but i like the fact that in the last couple of weeks you've heard of the administration say we are not going to be captive to this mutiny of the few who don't understand and i think it's time to say no and in the end that doesn't solve the problem but it can begin to prove to people that in fact science has prevailed and we beat the cynicism that we have been talking about. >> we have another question.
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he says this weekend he's been watching services and he says your book isn't fiction but do you think that there is a growing interest among the american intellectuals and the trump era? >> that is a great question. and i think we have to sort of acknowledge that this is like the absolute ideal environment to be talking about ideas and writing. politics and prose, the harvard bookstore, these are like the stations of the cross for literary americans, readers and writers. all of us in a sense have already given permission to ourselves to want to learn and i think there is in the world that you and i work in there was an
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awareness when we discovered not only had we failed to understand the distress bubbling up particularly in rural america but take the one fact the war in iraq and afghanistan had twice the number of casualties on small towns and cities and on large places but also that the first light-year of an analysis, the kind of hillbilly lg kind of somewhat's book is reviled around appalachia and because he was -- there was a sort of conservative text driving what he was trying to do, now we hear the voices of people on the ground telling stories of their own and if there's one thing i hope i tried to do in this book is to get out of the way and give people the chance to tell stories that this book is extremely character driven as you've described and it's because if you are doing your job right you could avoid messing with it and find the
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stories that tell themselves. i've learned a lot from people that have been doing this kind of work the last few years. >> we have a question from ronnie who says what do you say to the political right in america who otherwise like the commission don't agree with the political stance from which you write i find myself having this conversation with political moderates. those that kind of strive to think that i am operating from deep within ideology. and i have a good response to this question i guess.
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>> a specific dynamic that i gravitate to and write about things like the struggle between the individual in the state and the struggle between the market and the party. if you step back for a minute, those are often ideas that are popular to american conservatives and when i wrote about the united states i had a lot of problems with the way that they operated the last several decades i'm not seeking
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to persuade somebody of my political views. i'm trying my best to describe the tools i use with china and a place with that a small degree of distance that you get from being away and from coming home. there has to be a theory of the sort of individual versus the collective. i would add one other thing which is that one thing i've come strong to believe is the societies have these moments where we are swinging from one perception of ourselves to individuals as the other and we go back and forth. they've been more mindful of that collective and for reasons
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more specific, that collective ethic is toxic in the eyes of many people because they say that got us in eminence trouble. but i tried to regard them on their own terms and give them their own due. i'm sorry we won't be able to get to all of these questions. but to end on a more uplifting note, cheryl asks what would you recommend for everyday americans to help us get approximate to move towards trust with each other and see the humanity in each other the governor of virginia came back from world war ii where he had been.
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he had been serving alongside people of all races and backgrounds, came back to virginia and they came before him on whether to implement the decision in brown v board of education and he did it. he encountered what became known as the massive resistance. people disagreed and there was a strong backlash. people were asking how could you do such a thing as to embrace and he said when i was in the military, the people that i slept beside and worked beside were people who did not look like me and the notion we could have separate but equal schools is crazy to me. his was an example of getting proximate. you don't have to have military service. there's all kinds of ways if i was going to choose one thing i learned in this project it is
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the power of, and i wish we had a word that didn't sound so earnest but the power of service of some kind, simply putting yourself into a community where you will get out of your own environment for an hour or two and there was something powerful we have the luxury of being put in these unfamiliar environments all the time and so it's fortunate and i want to challenge myself to say what i still be doing this if my job didn't allow for it but there's something powerful and we are trying and we think about this with our kids, how do we make sure they are exposed to things different than their own and what i learned from this book,
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the line changing the ways that we see really resonated with me and what i took away from the book is the whole gospel with willpower and you become someone's made. she instilled that in me and i think i didn't realize how deeply ingrained it has been two unhealthy degrees and if i want something bad enough, i can
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manifest it. what was very poignant for me and we will end on this note of the story of the coal miners in west virginia and the petty criminal who didn't have to be a criminal in chicago and war veterans. they wanted to work for it, but the sheer force of will for the structure of the american society i came away from the book and deeply they sent by my own self discussion which i had been admittedly building for some time the willpower is so
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deeply embedded in american pathology that you just work hard enough generations of immigrants have landed hoping to embrace the e those. i learned through this that it simply isn't true and willpower will not get us there despite the best detection. a. >> thank you for reading this so closely and thinking about it in your own terms. i can't thank you enough. >> in a number of ways you were suited to write the book coming
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back with a fresh perspective and not only profiling other complicated countries but also to anchor your story in this country and the individual stories of the range of people and communities already somewhat familiar to you. your book is going to be recommended for the upcoming holiday season and i know those who read it will come away with a much better understanding of the country today. to everyone watching, thanks for tuning in and a reminder that in the chat column you can find a link for purchasing wildland.
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interviewing top nonfiction authors about their latest work. >> it's great to be with my good friend former governor, former congressman mark sanford and we're here this morning to discuss his book, 2 roads diverged. i'm excited to talk about this because this book talks quite a bit about second chances. and i notice that governor sanford, congressman sanford is a great admirer of the author robert frost whose


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