(Image Credit: kconnors/Morguefile)
"If we're going to fight off all this evil, we've got to do better. We've got to pull together."
Charles Barkley, I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It
What I am about to say will not be popular.
Ten years ago this week, nearly 3,000 Americans were murdered in a coordinated attack on the United States. The nation watched in horror as a handful of religio-political zealots siezed control of domestic airplanes and used them, kamikaze-style, to ram the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. One plane crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania when passengers overran the cockpit and attacked the hijackers.
By mid-afternoon the attacks were over, but something else was just beginning: all across the country Americans slowly stood up, wiped their eyes and got to work. How can I help? became the national question.
In the process we discovered each other. When all flights were grounded, many passengers found themselves stranded in unfamiliar places. Unable to fly, they rented cars and drove to their destination, sometimes crossing the entire country. These accidental tourists discovered a country of big skies and even bigger hearts. They were joined on the road by thousands of ironworkers, carpenters, EMTs and construction workers who spontaneously walked away from their regular jobs, packed their cars and headed to New York City to volunteer at Ground Zero.
Those who couldn't travel mobbed local blood donation centers, giving until officials had to ask them to stop. A network of free food service, donated clothing and even cheerleaders waving pompoms formed to support the rescue workers at Ground Zero. Schoolchildren sent them encouraging letters.
I am old enough to remember Iranian Hostage Crisis. A pop tune written during that national emergency seemed to capture the 9/11 spirit as well:
'Cause we'll all stick together
And you can take that to the bank
That's the cowboys
And the hippies
And the Rebels
And the Yanks...
We are unworthy now of the country we were then. We no longer deserve the firemen, police officers and EMTs who gave their lives, or the many volunteers who crossed the country to work on "The Pile," or the thousands who lined up to donate blood.
We have divided into vicious, self-righteous, tub-thumping enclaves.
STFU has replaced E Pluribus Unum.
The Capitol Building, with its grand dome and fluted columns, was designed as a kind of temple to our representative government. Today it is the playhouse of a pack of insane children. Legislators demand that peacefully protesting citizens be "investigated for racism" and publicize nasty emails declaring that a colleague is "not a lady."
Police and Firemen are demonized by pundits and politicians as "greedy public sector employees." Members of the Senate balk at extending health benefits for first responders crippled by their work at Ground Zero.
Some pundits have criticized the killing of Osama bin Laden, comparing it to the 9/11 attacks- as if the assassination of a mass-murderer- enjoying the protection of another nation's military- is somehow equal to a sneak attack on thousands of unarmed, innocent civilians.
There is a classic bumpersticker that says: I love Jesus but fear his followers. These days I love my country but fear its "patriots."
But it is not only politicians and pundits who are to blame. Our national conversation has splintered into coarse, crude, self-serving fragments.
Search the web for "9/11 films" or "9/11 documentaries" and you will be treated to a long list of paranoid productions blaming the attacks on everything from Dick Cheney to the end of the gold standard.
Even the martyred passengers of United 93 are not spared. Oh no, say these self-appointed "investigators," these brave "truth-seekers;" that plane was shot down by a missile.
Never underestimate the ability of any dogmatist to look the facts in the face and promptly make up a new story that suits their prejudices better.
I am also waiting for the day when some ambitious blogger announces that he has researched the entire list of 9/11 victims and carefully sorted all the names into registered Republicans or Democrats.
See? X Republicans killed and X Democrats! We win!!!
It would not surprise me. Because the political blogosphere has sunk that low.
We are living in an era when each tiny group believes that only they have all the answers, only they are true patriots and that all opposing opinions should be not just ignored, but exterminated. The opposition, it is said, is not just wrong, but dangerous; they're obviously stooges of this or that secret, evil cabal trying to destroy the country. Only the ideologically pure "us" can save it.
Does anyone but me see the absurdity of calling any American a "pure" anything? Our country is defined by its vigorous, motley, mutinous mix of ideas, ethnicities and backgrounds. It is this very mix, the constant lending and borrowing of solutions and viewpoints, that created the unshakeable safety net of September 12th.
That same mix might just pull us through our current problems, if we let it.
That's the cowboys.
And the hippies.
And the rebels.
And the yanks.