“People react to fear, not love,” Richard Nixon once said about US voters. “They don’t teach that in Sunday school but it’s true.”
In the 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Nixon’s jaundiced view of democracy has been put to the test and found to be frequently true. But the story of how America was changed by the first attack on its homeland since Pearl Harbor is better grasped from the ground than via the four-yearly presidential cycle.
No matter how far they were from the smouldering wreck of the Twin Towers, Americans awoke on 9/12 to a world permanently changed from what it was on 9/10. “In retrospect those late summer weeks in New York [in 2001] feel like the weightless instant when a ball has reached the top if its arc and not yet begun to plunge,” writes Evan Osnos, author of Wildland.
Ever since Thucydides forecast that the…