EASTON, Md, September 7, 2011 — While the terrorists didn’t succeed in their original plan to cripple America’s financial and governmental institutions with their twin attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they did succeed in weakening us as a people.
Right after the attacks, America rallied around the President, and everyone proclaimed themselves One America, even going so far as to say, “We are all New Yorkers.” President Bush stood at Ground Zero, a bullhorn to his lips and an arm around a firefighter as he said to a cheering crowd: “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”
It was an historic moment. We stood proudly with our President, defiant in the face of terrorism and death. Once again we would overcome adversity.
We have always been known as a strong country, pioneered by a fearless people, confident in the knowledge that we can make things happen and we can surmount any challenge, any setback. We are resilient.That is what makes America great.
Today, ten years later, we are a fractured people in danger of splintering into chasms so wide we may never be able to bridge them or at least not in this generation. And the sad thing is that we did it to ourselves.
Now with the two wars winding down, bin Laden dead, al Qaeda basically finished, and our resources both personally and nationally depleted, we have turned on one another. We are our new enemy. If this were Biblical times, we would be in the public square, stones in hand, ready to vent on some innocent head.
Recent polls show us filled with self-doubt, almost bordering on despair. Our confidence in government at all levels has eroded. We are fearful of the future and fearful of one another, making us ripe for the paranoia that now passes for politics.
A Different America
How did we get here after being one people, soldiering on despite death and destruction on our soil?
Sadly, it began with the same man, President Bush, whose clarion call to arms that September day in 2001, rallied us to our innate greatness. Instead he led us into Iraq after Saddam Hussein, a despot who was no threat to us but who was an easy target, easier than Osama bin Laden who had melted away into the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Then the President told us that there would be no sacrifice on our part at home, just on the brave troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And on their families, of course. The rest of us could go shopping (“I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy.”) and praying, naturally. President Bush’s address to Congress, September 20, 2001
Then came the tax cuts, big ones that took us to levels of taxation not seen since the 1950s. Usually taxes are raised to pay for wars, but the President had a surplus to waste. Besides he was privatizing the war. It could be done on the cheap, couldn’t it? After all his Vice President knew folks over at Halliburton who could get us a good deal.
Basically, President Bush told us we could have it all, guns and butter. Not margarine. Not Smart Balance, but butter.
Then in the fall of 2006, signs of a major recession loomed. Wise men and women such as Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman warned that something of historic proportions was materializing. No one listened.
Instead, President Bush at a press conference on December 20, 2006 told Americans, “I encourage you all to go shopping more.” And we did, blithely ignorant that our credit card purchases would dump us into massive debt, that our homes would be lost to foreclosure, that banks had ripped us off, and that the American government had taken us over the brink into titanic debt and deficits.
And still we fought in Iraq, losing blood and treasure in a senseless war that both Republicans and a majority of the Democrats had taken us into. Now the butter had melted and we were left with only bullets.
By the time President Obama was elected, America was hoping against hope that this was the man to take us out of this morass. It was not to be. He was too timid, even with a Democratic Congress, to make the bold moves needed. He extended an olive branch to the Republicans seeking common ground to resolve political differences and move us as One America towards problem solving.
The Republicans responded with a chainsaw, cutting off not just the olive branch but Obama’s hand as well. The President had never blamed the Republicans for the Great Recession, believing we had to let bygones be bygones, a serious mistake in my opinion.
But he obviously was taking a page from South Africa’s reconciliation efforts to concentrate on tomorrow and not yesterday. I would have thought his years in the Senate working with Republicans would have taught him that is not possible.
Perceiving the President as weak, folding easily when push came to shove, emboldened the GOP and it wasted no time in making the economy his baby, just like Obamacare became a dirty word.
By the time the Democrats lost the 2010 election, the Republicans not only had them on the run and the President on the ropes, they were calling the shots even though two of the three centers of power were held by Democrats. Along with the American people, Democrats had lost their will to lead, much less rule.
They played defense and by the time this summer rolled in with the debt ceiling debacle, Americans were not only dispirited, they were turning on one another irrationally. And any candidate who had a crackpot scheme to “save” the economy was deemed a genius.
At Each Other’s Throats
The idea of One America is long gone. Now it is “I want mine. And to hell with you.” Just ask Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) and other Republicans about One America when it comes to helping victims of disasters in other states. They are against increases to FEMA’s disaster relief budget (which is about to run out of money, thanks to the unprecedented disasters this year) without corresponding budget cuts elsewhere. From Medicare, perhaps?
Yet those House Republicans from flood-damaged areas say they might reject that position, adding that assisting people whose lives have been upended by the storm should take precedent over managing the budget deficit.
We will soon know how shortsighted our Congress is when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moves a $6 billion stand-alone disaster relief bill to the floor for a quick vote.
Our new national isolationism (we don’t need government cuz it’s bad for us) has brought us to where we have turned upon one another. States rights is code for we are not all Americans, just the guys in my state, my neighborhood. The rest of you are the Other. So don’t tell me what to do. Don’t take my taxes to pay for disaster relief in some god-forsaken state no one wants to live in anyway. Unless I happen to live there and then it’s God’s little half acre.
Start taxing the poor. In fact, make it a flat tax so they and Warren Buffet both pay 23%, even though it would hurt a family of four earning $30,000 while barely dinging Mr. Buffet.
If you don’t agree with me, you must be a New Yorker or worse a Californian. And by that I mean a Socialist or maybe a Commie or who knows, even worse. Maybe a Muslim?
I wear a flag lapel pin. I go to church every Sunday. All right, almost every Sunday, but, hey, at least I’m a Christian and not one of those other religions we allow in this country.
And I got mine the hard, old-fashion way, just like my parents did. Sure I got federal loan when I went to a community college, but I paid it right back. Also keep government out of our health care, but don’t touch Medicare. My grandma needs it. And keep your mitts off Social Security while you are at it. But take the rest of your government and shove it.
One last thing: when is that darn bridge leading to I-95 gonna get fixed?
9/11 seems like a long time ago, when we stood shoulder to shoulder and were One America. Today we call people we disagree with vile names. Today Congress insults the President. Today candidates scare the public with their lies and distortions and lack of solutions. Today the President hesitates and doesn’t stride boldly, unlike a wheel-bound earlier President who took no guff and rallied our better selves, our better angels, in the midst of the Great Depression.
Somewhere, maybe cavorting with 72 virgins, Mohamed Atta, must be shaking his head in amazement. He succeeded in smashing more than buildings: he shattered America’s soul.
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