Today marks the eighth anniversary of the largest scale terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil. Every year I feel compelled, as many people do, to commemorate the huge loss suffered that day. But today, some of those memories, along with more recent events, have my mind running on a different track.
Many remember the apparent sense of political unity that existed in the days following the attacks. Many saw the absence of political strife as a sign that we were all pulling together. And in many ways, that’s exactly what we were doing. Many of us hoped against hope for a permanently kinder, more unified America. Unfortunately, like so many alliances forged in times of desperation, it quickly evaporated like the mirage it was.
In the eight years since, we have steadily descended into a hellish new reality of polarization and hyper-partisan disrespect. In recent conversations with a couple longtime friends, I recounted the disturbing trend. The type of personalized political venom once spewed only from the extreme fringes now emanates from major media outlets and political figures. It seems the vermin of American politics are no longer afraid of the light, and that worries me immensely.
Upon hearing my lamentations, one of my friends asked if I’d prefer to go back to the days after 9/11, when “we were all in it together.” My answer: no.
While we may have been more civil in those emergent days, we were not in harmony. We were simply afraid — afraid of the unnamed terrors to come, and afraid of being labeled un-American if we voiced dissent. I wish it hadn’t been so. I wish we’d traded our uneasy truce for honest, but civil, debate. The kind of debate that requires no outlandish rumors from any side; the kind that involves serious consideration of other viewpoints. If the great tragedy had really triggered a great healing, the right salve surely would have included an open and honest debate. Sadly, it did not.
The irony is that the scale has tipped almost entirely in the opposite direction since those days. Too many of us can’t argue without being hyperbolic, or disagree without demonizing. Whereas I once believed President George W. Bush to be the most disrespected U.S. president of modern times, at no point in his tenure did a member of Congress heckle him during a speech, nor did any news network allow the on-air talent to allege he was a racist. And that’s really just the tip of what disturbs me about our nation’s newfound political machismo.
At some point in the future, there may be another Republican in the White House. Are any of this president’s opponents naive enough to believe it won’t have gotten worse by then?
And so, eight years from the day that supposedly changed America, what exactly has changed? Is the unruly discord of today simply the fruit of the empty harmony sown in the fall of 2001? If so, can it be remedied? Are there enough people willing to leave the comfort of their ideological echo chambers for that to even begin to happen?
I hope so, because otherwise, the most significant legacy I can see for that dark day is that of a trap door into a chute, and we haven’t seen the bottom yet.
one day torn apart;
the next, put back together -