The media – TV, radio, online and print – will be full of 9-11 memorials today. Rightly so, but in my opinion most of them will miss the point. 9-11 was a national tragedy and a so-far rare attack on American soil. People died, and others died trying to save them. Many heroic stories stem from that day. But the day itself and its casualties aren’t the big story.
9-11 was a clear, unambiguous turning point in American history. In one day we changed from a confident nation with a mostly-clean conscience to, 20 years later, a fearful, angry, vengeful nation with a two-decade record of killing and torture in the Middle East and a gigantic redistribution of power to military and intelligence agencies. Fear has driven our foreign policy since 9-11 and it shows. You can draw a straight line between 9-11 and the election of Trump, our own wannabe-dictator who feasted on the buildup of fear and hate.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have targeted Bin Laden and sought revenge for the attack – we did, and that was justified. But we allowed our fear to change our national psyche and have become a nation that’s hard to recognize. Polarized, fearful of foreigners, fractured national identity, blurring of church and state – these are all outcomes of the smackdown we experienced twenty years ago.
My hope on this anniversary of 9-11 is that we stop operating based on fear and hate and (re)start operating on the principle that we are one nation that can do great things if we work together. Our political opposites aren’t our enemies, they’re our neighbors with whom we have to find a way to make progress. There’s a lot of work to do at home to improve American lives and democracy, and the sooner we get on with that the better.
(Post title is a quote from Dune, by the late great Frank Herbert. Truer words never spoken.)