After working as a foreign correspondent for eight years in China and returning to the U.S. in 2013, Evan Osnos, a staff writer for The New Yorker who covers politics and foreign affairs, was greeted by the government shutdown his first day back at work. Candidly, Osnos remarked, “I thought: What the fuck is happening?”
Medill professor Alex Kotlowitz kicked off the conversation, titled “Evan Osnos: When Tyranny Takes Hold,” prior to a Q & A to an audience of about 30 people in the McCormick Foundation Center.
Medill sophomore Andrew Cao, who attended school in China for five years came to the event to hear Osnos discuss issues from both an American and an international perspective.
“I learned the Chinese…way of doing things, but later I went to Canada for school, so I know both sides of the argument…I also see the Western perspective, so I want to see how they balance both sides,” Cao said.
Osnos addressed this issue by discussing how politics is everywhere. Politics is understanding “how power is apportioned, who has it, who wants it, who’s unwilling to give it up, how systems work” are all deeply political, Osnos said. Upon his return to the U.S., Osnos found an America that was “utterly fractured.”
“I had been overseas for 10 years, and I’d come to find that it was this weird moment where people both on the left and on the right were declaring that the country was no longer familiar to them,” Osnos said.
Osnos described Trump being the leading candidate as “a novelty” and called his movement as he inched closer to the presidency “a serious political phenomenon that needed to be described.” Though Osnos had returned to the U.S., it was his 10 years of living in authoritarian countries that allowed him to understand the thought and language behind America under Trump.
“Then, when he [Trump] won, it was a five-alarm moment that really, I think, began to take on the qualities of a moral emergency,” Osnos said. “It’s amazing what a leader can do to people. He can make them say things and do things that they will find within themselves ideas that they would once find reprehensible and that they now find OK.”
Just one week after President Trump vowed to rain “fire and fury” over North Korea on Twitter, Osnos headed to North Korea. He cautiously weighed in on the upcoming summit between the U.S., the North and the South.
“Trump and Kim Jong-un have a combined eight years of political experience, and seven of them are on Kim’s side, so this is a Hail Mary pass. I’m not willing yet to say that it’s going to be a catastrophe,” Osnos said. “There’s also a scenario where you have two leaders who are highly personally invested on coming out of this with something.”
Though Osnos, who lives just one mile away from the White House, feels like everything the White House represents is “going through this reckoning,” he insists that there’s hardly been a more interesting time to be a writer in Washington.
“Politics feels really remote from people’s lives, we all have a sort of generalized contempt for it, and actually it’s fundamental to our experience as citizens,” Osnos said.