From 9/11 to the storming of the Capitol, a new book by Biden biographer Evan Osnos covers a tumultuous period of US history. He talks to David Smith about Trump, Afghanistan and the beginning of a new era
In the months after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Americans were shaken by “a sudden sense of vulnerability”, Evan Osnos writes. There was an eagerness, in those early days, to avoid the divisiveness of the Vietnam era. So much for that. In 2003, President George W Bush invaded Iraq and polarised the homeland. The novelist Norman Mailer warned of “a pre-fascistic atmosphere in America” and suggested that democracy was “a condition we will be called upon to defend in the coming years”.
Twenty years after 9/11, and eight years after his return to the US from reporting tours in the Middle East and China, Osnos, a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, grapples with Mailer’s prophecy in his new book Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury. The title is explained in the prologue, which quotes from Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong: “A single spark can start a prairie fire.” The image of a landscape primed to burn haunted Osnos, living and working in Donald Trump’s Washington. He came to understand it as a parable for a time in American history “when the land and the people seemed to be mirroring the rage of the other”.