Sunday, September 4, 2011
Squandering The Spirit of 9/11
I know this sounds crazy, but I miss 9/11.
It even sounds crazy to me because that was the worst day of my life, and I suspect it was for you, too.
Each of us is haunted by memories of that day and the ones that followed. I will never forget the sad sight of the victims' families placing missing posters at Ground Zero, putting on a brave face and hoping against hope that their loved ones were still alive. I don't miss that.
What I miss is the wave of national unity that swept the county. My first column after the attacks began with the words, "Well, the 2000 election is finally over," and I had high hopes that the bitterness of the Bush/Gore election would be swept away by the realization that, to paraphrase Jefferson, we are all Republicans, we are all Democrats, united by a common dream of a land with liberty and justice for all.
Pretty naïve, huh? It didn't take long for us to get back to normal. And by normal, I mean dysfunctional.
Ronald Reagan used to ask, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" And by any measure you use, we are worse off than we were in 2001.
Our Bill of Rights, economy, military, schools, infrastructure and international reputation are in tatters. Crucial problems such as immigration, climate change, the decline of the cities, the growing gap between the rich and poor and the pernicious influence of big money on our politics, have been kicked down the road - some, I fear, past the point of no return.
But the worst problem, the one that underlies all the others, is that many Americans hate other Americans more than they love their country.
And they're being egged on by cynical politicians and partisan media figures who tell them over and over to fear their fellow citizens.
The 9/11 tragedy isn't the only anniversary we're observing this year. It's also the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War and the 70th anniversary of our entry into World War II.
In the first case Americans split apart, and the result was more than 650,000 deaths. In the second case Americans came together, and they saved the world.
Now it's our turn. It's time to decide what kind of country we want to be. We are at a crossroads, and it can go either way.
There are some dangerous tendencies at work in the land. A lot of loose words are being thrown around about secession and "Second Amendment remedies." People are showing up at political rallies with loaded weapons. And some crazies are going even further - witness the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
This kind of reckless talk was common in the years leading up to the Civil War, too. Sure, we don't think it will come to war this time, but that's what people thought in 1860, too.
Lincoln, of course, described it best:
"All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came."
United we stand, divided we fall.