The Busch Family Brood

Devin Thomas O’Shea


“It’s spectacular being a Busch,” Christi Busch announces in the first and final season of MTV’s The Busch Family Brewed. She is not referring to her brother-in-law, Augustus Busch “The Fourth,” who—while spectacularly high, transporting a lot of drugs, and armed to the teeth—improvisationally landed a Bell 407 helicopter in a busy office park in 2017. The Fourth—who was supposed to be the heir to the Busch throne—has left a trail of wreckage in his wake. Reckless endangerment, flagrant criminality—none of that actual drama is mentioned on The Busch Family Brewed. The reality show omits the dark fourth uncle, and masks a deeper indignity that’s befallen the American rich: they’ve lost their culture.

The Busch family married into Eberhard Anheuser’s brewing company in 1861. From then on, the family beer dynasty reigned from the seat of the American Midwest, overseeing a kingdom from the end of the Prohibition era, around 1933, to the Great Recession of 2008, when the royal family could not produce an heir suitable to shareholders.

Budweiser, Bud Light, Rolling Rock, Michelob—from baseball stadiums to academic halls, the Busches’s crest is internationally known. The brand saturates the city of St. Louis, where they’re headquartered. A hundred years ago, when St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the U.S., it made an excellent throne for a beer kingdom. Back in the 1800s, a large German population, a river transit network, and fresh water sources facilitated lots of beer production.

During Prohibition, smaller operations folded, but Anheuser-Busch stayed afloat selling homebrew kits and yeast products. Augustus Busch Senior (Busch One) had the finances and family connections to keep the brewery mothballed, and when Prohibition ended, Senior shot out of the gate, monopolizing a huge part of the market.

Busch One was the dour, patient, Depression-era Busch. Proceeds from the new life that he breathed into the company after Prohibition were used to expand the Busch estate. Monopoly gains were invested in farmland and brewery equipment; dynastic assets like mansions were preserved to be passed down to the little Busches. Busch One shot himself in the head in his parlor at the age of sixty-eight.

Busch the Second was the Willy Wonka Busch. He was known as “Gussie” and turned some family land into a boozy petting zoo called Grant’s Farm. Gussie carried around an attitude of careless revelry from 1946 to 1975—the greatest generation wanted beer, and The Second couldn’t give it to them fast enough. Gussie was the president of the St. Louis Cardinals, the purveyor of good times, the producer of plenty of scions. His success coincided with America’s: the empire’s expansion, albeit with a Cold War and atomic death hovering forever overhead—but relax, have an ice-cold Budweiser and watch the game.

Busch Three, or “Three Strokes,” as he was known in the family, was the opposite of baseball, brats, and beer. Three Strokes came to power in the 80’s as the thirst for heavy Budweiser slowed, and Bud Light was born. Gussie’s son was the Gordon Gekko Busch; paranoid, stern, efficient. Nothing like his father, the alcoholic Willy Wonka.

You and I lived through the reign of The Fourth. Especially me, in St. Louis, where the neon Budweiser signs illuminate dirty bar walls in my city’s forgotten neighborhoods. St. Louis continues to shrink: the brick houses fall down, gun violence and police brutality go unchecked, the poor get poorer. And the rich, it follows, get richer.

But there are signs of life. A new movement has arisen. The post-Ferguson coalition is taking hold, and a progressive Black woman is in office. This new mayor, Tishaura Jones, was just elected in 2021. Kim Gardner is the first Black circuit attorney. Our new congresswoman, Cori Bush, won office in 2020.

Still, the ruling family of Anheuser-Busch continues to haunt the city—the Busches could be seen on MTV, and their dark uncle The Fourth is still out there, hurtling through the air overhead, high as shit. So, it’s important to think through what power is actually changing hands, and where it’s always really been.

The old Busch brewery.

In a feature for Jacobin,Take Me To Your Leader: The Rot of the American Ruling Class,” economist Doug Henwood wrote about stewardship as pivotal in the psyche of America’s predominant ruling class, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. WASPs have always enjoyed money and debauchery as much as any elites. Still, a certain style of sociability amongst the class is now defunct; in the past, they evinced a greater concern for “reputation”—which was really concern about what they had to lose.

The old WASP families saw themselves as custodians of property. Their wealth was not really theirs, but belonged to the family, and it was their job to enjoy it up until the point that one might sabotage the generational handoff. The stakes were high—fumbling the bag meant the erasure of your life’s meaning. You would earn no oil painting in the dining room; there would be no family legend of your success. No WASP-y young lad with an oversized lollipop would look around the estate grounds, the antiques, and the gardens and think, “This is all because of grand-pa-pa.”

Romanticization of the family legacy was a motivating, very male daddy-issue fantasy operating in the previous era. Stewardship is a value inherited from the old French and English aristocracy. For centuries, the European rich tried, and often failed, to pass down their Duke of Whatever wealth in one direction, across many eras, in a single-file line. This hierarchical way of preserving class often results in not only inbreeding, but also increasingly warped iterations of the family, with each successive generation more insulated by their wealth, more detached from reality.

Busch The Fourth is the Gen X Busch—a mixture of Gussie and Three Strokes. Picture a young white man in a blazer. He sits on a stool at a bar called Dirtbag’s. His ID shows a Roman numeral after his last name. His expensive car is parked in the lot outside the bar, which is near the University of Arizona campus. The young beer prince has cut the line of bar-goers and ordered a round of his family’s brew for everyone with a pulse. “Nineteen-year-old August IV was a regular at Dirtbag’s,” William Knoedelseder writes in Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer. “He wore his entitlement on his sleeve, casually revealing his family connection in the act of ordering rounds of Budweiser and Bud Light.” After downing seven vodka Tom Collins cocktails, The Fourth left Dirtbag’s with a young woman named Michele Frederick, bound for another party.

That Sunday, at 8:30 a.m., Pima County officers got a call about an accident on East River Road. A black Corvette had been left on its side fifty feet from the pavement. Twenty feet behind the car, the body of a young woman lay in the street. Several empty Bud Light cans lay near the car, along with a half-smoked joint and a purse with Michele C. Frederick’s expired driver’s license inside. A sport coat with “Designed for August A. Busch IV” stitched on the collar was found in the Corvette, as was a .44 Magnum revolver and a wallet with two Missouri licenses in Busch’s name—one that said he was nineteen, another that said he was twenty-three.

The Corvette had not even tried to slow down entering a turn known as “Dead Man’s Curve.” The car was going fast enough to go airborne, flip, and roll over. “The woman had been thrown out through the detachable Targa hardtop which was lying by the road.” Michele probably died on impact. The police found The Fourth back in his apartment, naked, asleep in his bed, dried blood coating his body from his head to his midsection. There was blood on the pillow, and bloody clothes on the floor, and an AR-15 at the foot of his bed.

Involuntary manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crash are federal crimes. The case detective requested search warrants for the Corvette and DNA samples from hospital. But after a week of waiting, the deputy reported back: “Bad news, boss. They don’t have it.” The samples had been run through a centrifuge and ruined “on accident.”

The Busch family lawyers extracted the Fourth from Arizona, flew him back to Missouri, and checked him in at St. John Mercy—a hospital to which the Busch family has been a generous donor.

To ask who is in charge of St. Louis has always been a tricky question. The Veiled Prophet Society? The business alliance known as Civic Progress? Or the billionaires: Jack Taylor, libertarian Rex Sinquefield? Yet woven into all of these, you may find the Busches. Their daughters become Veiled Prophet Queens in the annual debutante ball, and their patriarchs chair the board of Civic Progress. The Veiled Prophet Ball makes Busch women the royalty of this Klan-adjacent beauty pageant, leading them to later rule in the philanthropy world. The men of Civic Progress sit on a round-table “advisory board,” seeking to guide St. Louis toward business-savvy prosperity.

Civic Progress evolved out of the Veiled Prophet Society, and both booster clubs remain anti-democratic cartels of the rich. The reason for worshipping the Veiled Prophet—a Ku-Kluxian character birthed to celebrate the crushing of worker strikes in the 1870s—was not so much occult as it was administrative. These private circles helped the St. Louis aristocracy preserve and protect their fortunes by winding tentacles into law enforcement, politics, real estate, banking, and the media.

The St. Louis newspaper of record, The Post-Dispatch, never published anything humanizing about Michele Frederick’s life. They gave her age, and listed her as Busch’s “woman companion,” occupation “waitress.” Her picture was never printed. She was a worker in the service industry, a person with an interior life as complex as yours or mine, a daughter of a mom and dad, a student putting herself through school. But to the Busches, her life was not royal, and the truth of her humanity threatened the family’s infallibility.

Knoedelseder suggests in Bitter Brew that Michele’s family’s purchase of a Porsche and their installation of an in-ground pool is evidence of a secret settlement. Any chance at justice was batted around in the press, foiled, frustrated, forgotten, and buried. After The Fourth got out of St. John’s, he enrolled in St. Louis University—that moral and godly private Jesuit institution. He was bestowed with, among other privileges, a parking pass for the teacher’s lot. After all, downtown parking can be a pain in the ass.

As one of the daughters in The Busch Family Brewed gets ready for prom, her knucklehead brother comes bounding down the mansion stairs shirtless and, embarrassingly, begins to flex on her high school date. I watched the reality show struggle to make drama from the shallow lives of these bland people, and I wondered how much of the real world the seven Busch kids will ever know.

It’s hard to say who the last “normal” Busch was—the last one that wasn’t drenched in wealth. Busch Zero, Adolphus Busch, was born a wealthy German lad of a wholesaler. His father sold brewery supplies in the Grand Duchy of Hesse. The pattern extends far into the past. But it seems like the effect of the weight of this historical wealth is that each Busch patriarch develops a daddy complex that manifests in either hedonic nihilism or micro-managing rage.

Behind closed doors, Busch III was a petty hard-ass. The Fourth tried living up to his father’s expectations but was rewarded with Donald Trump Jr.-style degradation. As Knoedelseder writes in Bitter Brew, “[The Fourth] showed up for a meeting with A-B’s California wholesalers at the Los Angeles brewery one afternoon, sporting a pair of pointy-toed lizard-skin cowboy boots, and his father immediately bawled him out in front of a subordinate. ‘When the fuck are you going to learn to dress like a business person?’ he barked. The Fourth pointed to his father’s feet and said, ‘Well, what do you call those?’ August III looked down at his hand-tooled Lucchese dress boots with tastefully rounded toes and said, ‘These are aristocrat boots.’ Pointing at his son’s feet, he declared, ‘Those are shit-kickers.’”

Three Strokes reigned through the last era of a beer industry dominated by mega-brands, before the rise of the craft brew. To their credit, the Busches are not as responsible for instigating as much pure evil as their counterparts the Coors. The Coors family founded The Heritage Foundation, helping to usher in the Reagan years and bankroll legions of cushy conservative think-tank jobs.

Still, while the Busches didn’t singlehandedly shift the American politics toward an reactionary death cult, they are deeply complicit in social harm. We can’t forget what the beer industry does to people. I’m not talking about having a beer while you grill, or at your neighborhood dive—I’m talking about a globe-spanning misery machine reliant on addiction, powered by ubiquitous advertising that has its claws in everyone’s head.

The big beer industry spends mountains of marketing cash every second, and has done so since the birth of advertising. Children do not learn about alcohol from their parents, they learn about it from an institution that wants to convert them into lifelong users, especially boys. Over 60% of American alcohol sales come from the top 10% of drinkers: alcoholics. Anheuser-Busch and other alcohol corporations are as utterly dependent on this income as their customers are on their product.

Television, billboards, and bikini babes—commercials show you that drinking is fun. And not merely a component of fun, but the essence of it. Anheuser-Busch is extremely guilty of intentionally conflating sex and alcohol. We talk about rape culture—and it’s hard to deny that the subtext of most booze ads is, Get her drunk! The beer prince was obviously not immune.

Bitter Brew presents a sophisticated look at the Busch family, but ultimately hews to the narrative that The Fourth fumbled the ball. However, unlike Three Strokes, The Fourth was unable to capitalize on the introduction of as successful a product as Bud Light. There was no Prohibition to be imposed and then lifted, inviting A-B into an extremely-high-demand, super-low-supply profit margin. All the sacrificial cows were dead by the time IV showed up. All that was left was marketing.

Bud—weis—er,” croaked the toads in the bayou, melting the brains of Gen X. The Fourth was quick to take credit for the company’s wildly popular ‘90s ad campaign. Dave Swaine and Michael Smith, part of a creative team hired by A-B, came up with the toads, a precursor to the “weird” advertising of today, and something like an early meme. The ad campaign somehow wielded influence over Boomers and Gen Xers alike—it was such a hit that Fortune profiled The Fourth as the rising star in the A-B kingdom. It was Fourth’s idea to “to take Budweiser off its pedestal and move it onto… the toadstool.” Auggie IV would not be a stick-in-the-mud like his father.

But that came later. After committing manslaughter in Arizona, one would hope that The Fourth would have gotten sober. Instead, The Fourth spent his time at SLU partying, and became known for insufflating table-length lines of blow. Little Auggie ran in a posse of less-rich bros who picked women out of nightlife crowds for him. Capping off the night meant The Fourth and his goons crossed the Mississippi River to Sauget, “a kind of modern-day Deadwood,” according to Knoedelseder. “A four-square-mile industrial ‘village’ that operated in the sweet spot between moral laxity and lawlessness. In Sauget… it was a lot easier to hire a [sex worker] than buy a loaf of bread.”

One night in May 1985, undercover police spotted a silver Mercedes barreling west down a highway at 90 miles per hour, nearly side-swiping other cars. The cops pulled the car over, but as officers approached, the Mercedes hit the gas. Officers pursued, believing they’d caught a big fish drug dealer. In a way, they had. The Fourth lead the STLPD on a high-speed pursuit through the city at two in the morning. It ended with an officer shooting out the Mercedes’s left rear tire.

Police didn’t know they were firing on the beer prince—as Bill McClellan wrote in The Post-Dispatch: “Arresting a member of the Busch family is not the best way to get ahead in the St. Louis Police Department.” McClellan has always been understated—what he means to say is that the Busch family lives upwind of jurisprudence. He means to say that A-B buys the cooperation of platoons of off-duty police by giving them cushy security jobs. He means to say that the chief detective had a son who worked in A-B’s advertising department. Judges sit on the bench because A-B installed them there, like Clydesdales in a stable.

The Fourth claimed paranoia, that he thought the plainclothes officers were kidnappers. There was a .38 caliber revolver on the floorboard of the car, within reach of this rich boy with pupils the size of dinner plates, already responsible for the death of another. But Judge Peach said that the handgun was too far under the seat to pose a real threat. Case dismissed! Surely, this precedent went on to upend the sentencing of the many, many people in St. Louis’s Black community who have ended up in jail or dead for so much less. No?

Four months after the trial, The Fourth was caught driving his Porsche 65 in a 35. He went back to sweet Judge Peach and got one year of probation. (Judge Peach, a brilliant legal mind who raged against pornography and vice, was later caught as a customer of sex workers, using city funds to pay his tabs.)

Three Strokes had spent the ’90s drug testing his bottling plant workers, convinced that cocaine was the root cause of society’s evils. Meanwhile, his son The Fourth spent the decade right beside him, glassy-eyed, zooted, positioned to shoulder the heft of the empire, and looking gaunt enough to blow over in a light breeze. In the lead-up to the end, August the Fourth became more visibly fucked up on a day-to-day basis. His Key West sojourns were Little St. James-esque; escort services were billed to A-B as “models” at $20,000 per night. The agencies all told the same story: “[The Fourth] had some deep-seated stuff going on, a sexual dependency that went way, way, way beyond Tiger Woods.”

What if the inheritance of power between beer son and beer dad had been stronger? What if The Fourth had been sober-minded enough to buy Modelo instead of surrendering to the Belgian multinational InBev? Maybe we’d still have the original Busch dynasty kicking around, Bitter Brew suggests. But those are ghosts of St. Louis past. I imagine Gussie walking the corridors of the A-B offices like Hamlet’s father, disappointed in his heir, chewing on a ballpark hot dog. After the 2008 sell-out, The Fourth spiraled into deeper addiction and paranoia, spending more time out at his lake house in the Ozarks, far away from anyone who could help him get clean. He had set up “game” cameras all over the surrounding woods. The beer prince sat in front of the monitors, tweaking hard, telling his wife he saw figures out there in the dark approaching the house, watching him. He said little blue heads floated out there in the night.

Growing up in St. Louis, the city without A-B was unthinkable. My family knew families who worked at the A-B office and the bottling plant; they brought home a case of Budweiser every Friday. Those plant jobs are union, and some are still there. What’s vanished is the executive office. The headquarters building sits empty. The seat of power is now unmoored from national boundaries, distributed across the foreign offices and computer systems of a multinational corporation.

It would have been unfathomable—not considered remotely possible in the imagination of anyone watching the company—that in 2008, Anheuser-Busch could have put a bullet in its own C-Suite class and given the brewery over to an international syndicate. In a different world, the Teamster’s union could have taken on a collective ownership role, with only a few modifications needed to divide up the two or three decisionmaking tasks the Busch kings ever did per year. This would not have stemmed the broader ravages of the alcohol industry—but let’s say that, in this alternate reality, profits could have floated back down to earth, into the local communities where the workers lived, and a company that so gleefully wraps itself in the American flag could aspire towards something benefiting more than a handful of Americans.

Budweiser is almost always backgrounded by the red, white, and blue. It lays claim to the values of the heartland—but the heartland’s real values have always been solidarity, community. Those values are antithetical to the capitalist order that birthed the company. Putting the Anheuser-Busch in the hands of its workers was, of course, never really considered. The stockholders and the Busch family wanted to cash out. While the investor class got their profits, the Busches committed aristocratic seppuku.

Bitter Brew was published in 2012, and the 2008 meltdown hadn’t yet been metabolized by history. It still hasn’t—2008 was and is a slow-moving, half-secret catastrophe for the Midwest bourgeoisie. An older version of capitalism allowed factory owners to be feudal regents in places like St. Louis. But in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Rust Belt companies were acquired by mega-corporations, and the local executive class was replaced by representatives of out-of-state, or out-of-country, powers. Those reps had one job, and that was to cut costs. A tragedy for the tyrants. Many moved to Florida or New Mexico. You can still go on the Anheuser-Busch tour in downtown St. Louis, but the king you meet there is a multinational masquerading as a local magistrate.

Billy Busch Senior, the patriarch of MTV’s The Busch Family Brewed, is the half-uncle of The Fourth. In 2011, Billy attempted to resuscitate the kingdom and restore the family name by starting Kräftig Beer—KREHF-tig, meaning “strong” in German. Kräftig tasted like carbonated wheat juice, and Billy was an uncharismatic CEO—a rich suburban dad with more plastic surgery than the average Missouri guy.

Appearing onscreen in their reality show, Christi Busch and the seven Busch kids are all dull, if enthusiastic. They navigate the challenges of kicking off the summer with a beer bong from the second story of the Busches’s farmhouse property. The family worries that one of the Busch daughters’ boyfriends will not propose to her while on vacation in Paris. One of the Busch sons may be marrying someone below his status. These are the kinds of petty scandals that could make for good-bad television. But The Busch Family Brewed manages to be bad-bad trash TV.

The season arc concludes with the family’s plan to “build a new Busch brewery for the first time in four generations.” But, to ruin the ending for you, Kräftig folded in July 2019, shortly after filming wrapped. Billy has not entirely escaped the Busch psycho-emotional father complex either—in 2018, he “plead guilty to a peace disturbance charge in a municipal case for allegedly assaulting a sixth-grader” at his son’s basketball practice.

It is no surprise that a show like The Busch Family Brewed exists. Without the means of production to ensure the next generation of Busches live the gilded life of their ancestors, the next best investment is in fame. Being on TV, having a personal brand, and putting eyeballs on overpriced lifestyle products is the only way to ensure you still matter as a Busch in 2021. Billy Busch’s kids now leverage their social media following to sell designer belts.

The Busch Family Brewed is confused and postmodern. The family name is famous for a brewing company they no longer own, whose product they consume for fun, while selling you a belt based on Instagram clout—clout which originated in the Busch name, which originated in the brewery, which the Busches do not own. Without the brewery, signifier and signified are all hollowed out, disconnected, gesturing at nothing but a vague, beery Americana.

In the summer of 2020, Mark and Patricia McCloskey debuted as villains on national news. A mostly-drunk pitcher of pink beverage sat on their veranda. Mark tucked his salmon-colored Brooks Brothers polo into his slacks for a Sunday in quarantine. Over his chubby belly was slung an AR-15. Patricia, taller than Mark, and with worse trigger discipline, wore a black-and-white Hamburglar shirt with a mustard stain on the shoulder. Neither of the mansion owners wore shoes. The McCloskeys waved their weapons at unarmed St. Louis protestors who had marched over their estate’s grass, screaming about private property.

Few would know that the McCloskey palazzo was originally designed and built by the Busches. St. Louis Magazine profiled them: “Adolphus and Lilly Busch, the story goes, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by giving their children money to build houses.” The magazine quotes Patty McCloskey: “’August Sr. built Grant’s Farm,’ Patty says. ‘Hugo Reisinger, who was married to one of the sisters [Edmee Busch Reisinger], built a big house on Fifth Avenue. Wilhelmina built a castle in Bavaria…’ And Anna and Edward—son of Tony Faust, Adolphus’ best friend—set out to build a Renaissance palazzo.”

There are far fewer rich people in Missouri than New York, and the Midwestern rich are country rednecks in the eyes of the L.A. illuminati. The Busch Family Brewed embraced the archetype with a country music soundtrack, among other artificially rural trappings. In episode one, Billy Busch Sr. goes skeet shooting with the boys—like Mark and Patricia, he doesn’t seem too good with a rifle.

The Fourth took gun fetishism to a higher level. A housekeeper called Social Services in 2010 because The Fourth’s girlfriend, Adrienne Martin, was letting her young son Blake wander around their mansions with loaded guns strewn about on every surface. The Social Services call drove Fourth into a paranoid fugue state. He paced the house in a cold sweat, swearing vengeance, multiple guns strapped to his body. Holes found in the house ceiling suggested gunfire was occasionally used to punctuate important thoughts. Uncharacteristically, St. Louis County police launched a sting operation to arrest the beer baron’s son—child endangerment was a bridge too far.

Eight months after a brief stint in treatment, on December 19th, 2010, The Fourth called the police to say his wife wouldn’t wake up. According to the report, Adrienne Martin was found fully clothed in a room “in disarray.” “Items were lying throughout the room in no identifiable pattern… electronic devices, power cords, television, remote controls, Gatorade bottles, two cups of brown liquid, weapons, ammunition, radios, speakers, shoes, a watch, tools, flashlight batteries.” Her young son was away, visiting relatives in Springfield.

For four days, the authorities didn’t inform the public about Adrienne Martin. Martin was from a small town in Missouri. She got pregnant out of high school and raised Blake as a waitress at Hooters before she met The Fourth. Like Christi Busch, the mother in Busch Family Brewed, Adrienne won swimsuit competitions. In one interview, Martin said she wanted to work in beer advertising one day. “I never saw Adrienne looking like she did in those pictures,” said a mutual friend of Adrienne and The Fourth. “She always looked like a stoned junkie, sitting on the couch, barely able to speak.”

Adrienne’s first husband came forward after the public found out about her death. Public opinion probably couldn’t absorb another accidentally dead woman in The Fourth’s orbit. Luckily, here was the ex-husband to claim that Adrienne had a rare heart condition only he knew about.

Sympathetic stories popped up in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “August Busch IV Not to Blame for Death, Girlfriend’s Mom Says.” The toxicology report alleged there was enough cocaine in Adrienne’s system to kill her. She had perforated nostrils from doing so much blow. The Fourth refused to cooperate with authorities’ efforts to find out who had provided the drugs, so they shrugged and called the whole thing off.

Seven years later, in 2017, The Fourth landed his helicopter in an office park that was not abandoned, or empty of rotor-destroying lampposts. “I was thinking it was going to hit the wires or hit a building or something,” Swansea, Illinois resident Keith Padgett said, but figured the helicopter pilot knew what he was doing. Swansea police arrived on scene around noon. It was a Monday, and the pilot seemed lit up like it was midnight on New Year’s. The cops administered a field sobriety test. The Fourth blew a .000. 

Even with the breathalyzer coming up clean, the cops knew The Fourth was very high. High enough to believe he could safely operate a helicopter while high, apparently. Swansea is a small municipality—rich people in the city can get away with a lot, but if you want to enter no man’s land, the St. Louis rich have only to cross a few county lines before becoming the biggest fish for hundreds of miles in any direction. No doubt the Swansea cops wanted this FAA violation out of their district, and probably knew it was wise to let the Fourth go. There are uncountable ways in which a career can be ruined if a Busch is not allowed to do what they please. But The Fourth couldn’t comprehend that the cops were trying to grant him a break. After a spell of incoherent rambling on topics unrelated to the helicopter parked by the Rural King, the cops gave up and decided to take him down to the station.

They searched Mr. Busch and Mr. Busch’s new wife, Dawna Wood, who was accompanying him. His wife said the bag of dexamethasone discovered in Mr. Busch’s pocket belonged to her. “A large bag of prescription drugs that his wife said were to assist with fertility was also found.” Mr. Busch had to warn officers that the firearm in his pocket was hot. In the helicopter, cops found “a Ruger LCR 22 LR revolver, a Ruger SP101 .357 Magnum revolver with four live rounds, and a loaded Glock Austria .357 with one round in the chamber. Investigators also found several bottles of prescription drugs; letrozole prescribed for his wife and alprazolam [and] clonazepam prescribed for Busch.”

The Fourth seemed ready to shoot his way out of any situation, but officers made no arrest. They held Mr. Busch for four days, while the Busch family hired a professional pilot to fly the inconveniently parked helicopter away. Lest he glimpse the void at the heart of America, witness Keith Padgett took a Midwestern view of the ordeal: “Seems a little strange. I guess we drive our cars. Other people fly their helicopters.”

When you have all the money and all the guns, the Protestant work ethic says that failure is your personal failure. It can never mean that global capital lifted your family up for a period, only to let you fall back to Earth with the rest of us. It can never mean that the maladies of the rich are created by wealth just as poverty creates the maladies of the poor.

“Fish rot from the head,” Doug Henwood writes, and Americans live in an extremely hierarchical society, where class mobility is mostly illusory. With no culture of wealth preservation at the top, no stewardship, no noblesse oblige, the rising tide of disgust, alienation, and anger risks destabilizing everything. As Henwood points out, if today’s ruling class was at all serious, they would be fully alarmed about the climate crisis. Perhaps someday the rabble will be in charge, and the only question remaining will be whether we will have socialism, or we will have barbarism.

In the meantime, the elite will party, and make reality shows about their lives, and live in a fantasy land in a world that exists for their enjoyment, the way God created it. In the real world, you and I are left to read the papers, and see that the beer prince has been found with another dead woman, leading us both the wonder if we’re paranoid to think there might be people out there who can do whatever they want to you. They fly above us in expensive machines, armed to the teeth, high as fuck. The A-B eagle can still swoop down and grasp you in its claws—promising love, fun, intoxication—and carry you off to a place where there’s nothing you, or your family, or the police can do to stop them.♦



Devin Thomas O’Shea’s writing is in Jacobin, The Nation, Current Affairs, Boulevard, CHEAP POP, The New Territory, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. He graduated Northwestern’s MFA program in 2018. Find him at @devintoshea on Twitter and Instagram.


Images from Tony Webster, Matt Green, and Steven Martin. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).

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