A Connecticut Town Gives New Spin to Greenwich Mean Time.
It’s a walled enclave of the rich and shameless, according to writer Evan Osnos.
“On the ground where I grew up, some of America’s most powerful people have championed a version of capitalism that liberates wealth from responsibility.” — Evan Osnos
It took me several days to get through Evan Osnos’s New Yorker article. I had to take breaks from reading about the despicable Americans who were once considered respectable “country-club Republicans” but have now “learned to ignore their neighbors and love Trump.”
Osnos, who grew up in Greenwich not far from the country club that the Bush dynasty belonged to, does truly “deep-pocket” research and reporting on how greed became a virtue, one to even flaunt, among this gated gentry. They are a microcosm of America’s one-percenters.
You can read his long piece for yourself. It’s fascinating, especially because Osnos grew up as a neighbor with some of the star cast and he names names, having interviewed many. It’s a fast read if you have a strong stomach. I’ll merely list some of the atrocious things I learned from Osnos’s research:
- Quoting a local Democratic activist, Osnos writes, “Greenwich only discriminates on the basis of one color: green.”
- “In 2016, according to federal estimates, it was the wealthiest metropolitan area in the United States, outstripping the oil country of Midland, Texas, and the technology hub of San Francisco. Even though a string of tycoons have fled Connecticut in search of lower taxes, the latest Forbes ranking of the world’s billionaires lists fifteen of them in the ‘Greater Greenwich Area.’”
- “In 1975, protesters came to town with signs reading ‘cocktail bigots’ and ‘share the summer,’ because Greenwich residents barred nonresidents from a public beach — a restriction that lasted until the state Supreme Court overturned it, in 2001. Nobody pretends that bigotry has vanished.”
- Osnos notes that this “executive class” (or “Americans at the top”) of the Republican Party in essence formed a “joint venture” with the clichéd Trump supporters, “Americans at the bottom,” and “accepted the terms of Trumpism as the price of power.”
- Greenwich’s lush back roads once featured homes behind hip-height stone walls. Then, almost as if a metaphor for the Wall Street, from which came the “most extraordinary accumulations of wealth in American history,” came the “tall, stately walls of chiseled stone, mortared in place.” A local called them “Fuck you walls.”
- Osnos reports that “the corporate convulsions of the seventies” inspired Wall Streeters to get “creative,” that is, instead of “funneling American savings into new businesses and mortgages,” the end of the twentieth century saw “new realms of speculation and financial engineering — aggressive methods to bet on securities, merge businesses, and cut expenses using bankruptcy laws. U.S. stock markets grew twelvefold, and most of the gains accrued to the wealthiest Americans. By 2017, Wall Streeters were taking home twenty-three per cent of the country’s profits — and home, for many of them, was Connecticut.
- Concludes one local observer to Osnos: “Every year that goes by, more and more of the added value in our society goes toward capital, and less and less toward labor. . . What you end up with is a very unstable society.”
- Thus, “nobody was shocked that the vast new fortunes of the Gold Coast [Greenwich] contained the seeds of financial catastrophe.”
- One Greenwich resident, “hedge-fund manager Steven A. Cohen paid $14.8 million in cash for a house, then added an ice rink, an indoor basketball court, putting greens, a fairway, and a massage room, ultimately swelling the building to thirty-six thousand square feet — larger than the Taj Mahal.”
- Osno reports on his neighbors who “became known for one imbroglio after another.” You could “wander by the stone Colonial house of Walter Noel, a money manager . . . who funneled billions of his clients’ dollars to the grifter Bernie Madoff.” You could wander by “the estate of hedge-fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, . . . who was arrested as part of the stock-cheating case that the F.B.I. called Operation Perfect Hedge.” He got eleven years in prison. “So many neighbors were ensnared in financial scandals that a local blogger named our street Rogues Hill Road.”
- “Charles Rossotti, a Republican businessman who served as the commissioner of the I.R.S. from 1997 to 2002, has estimated that sophisticated tax ploys and shelters cause ordinary citizens to pay an extra fifteen per cent in taxes each year. . . Connecticut has the richest one per cent of any state, but . . . its roads are among the worst in the country.”
- In 2019, a powerful Greenwich attorney, Gordon Caplan, was indicted for paying $75,000 for a test proctor to fix his daughter’s ACT exam. Caplan, one of fifty-three defendants in the college-admissions scandal, many in Greenwich (and Atherton and Bel Air), was quoted in a phone call (recorded by the F.B.I sting): “To be honest, I’m not worried about the moral issue here.”
- “As of last year, America’s four hundred richest individuals owned about three trillion dollars in wealth — more than all black households and a quarter of Latino households combined.”
- “ . . . it is easy to count the ways that [Trump] has oriented his administration to help [the Greenwich élite.]” Trump’s tax bill “cut the corporate tax rate by 14 per cent, and most of the windfall went to investors in the form of dividends and stock buybacks. . . .On average, Trump gave households in the top one per cent a $48,000 tax cut, while those in the bottom twenty per cent received $120.”
- When Trump finally “signed a relief bill, in March, it included a tax deduction, mostly for hedge funds and real-estate businesses, that was worth $1.7 million for each of America’s forty-three thousand wealthiest tax payers and cost the Treasury about ninety billion dollars in the first year.”
- Regarding the clichéd image of “Trump admirers”: A 2016 exit poll “and other data showed that Trump supporters earned an average of $72,000 a year, while supporters of Hillary Clinton earned $11,000 less. Two-thirds of Trump’s supporters had incomes higher than the national median — sometimes, as in Greenwich, much higher.”
Evan Osnos gives the reader one of the most thoughtful, well-researched, well-analyzed portraits of how a “governing class . . . helped disfigure our political character by demonizing moderation and enfeebling the basic functions of the state.”
Every American of voting age should read his piece.