Sixteen years after the horrific events of 9/11, we Americans find ourselves in a state of divisiveness and stratification which may not be unprecedented in our nation’s history, but which is clearly far afield from the ideals of unity and solidarity upon which our country’s founders set their hopes.
The antipathy that characterizes our social and political discourse is fierce and growing. While the 9/11 attacks momentarily united Americans in a common sense of grief, shock, and indignation, it might be argued that this seminal event in our nation’s history was the genesis of the rupture that has broadened steadily ever since, and that now threatens to rend our union apart.
The tremendous loss of precious life on September 11th, 2001 was only beginning of the wound that was inflicted on that day. The ultimate goal of terrorism is not the immediate violence perpetrated, but rather the instability and dread that it breeds. The act itself is an incision and implantation of a bacteria that propagates and festers beneath the surface. The end game of terrorism is terror, because terror is the most effective way to erode a society at its roots. Violence from abroad is not nearly as destructive as violence from within. A people that fights among themselves will far more efficiently do the work of those who seek their demise from afar.
By perpetuating the culture of partisan belligerence and ideological polarization that prevails today, we are fulfilling the greatest dreams of those who are opposed to the American way of life. We are fighting their battle for them, and we are doing a damn good job in their employ. As they were successful in toppling the World Trade Center, we are now on the verge of toppling many of the structures and institutions that have made us strong and kept us safe. Admittedly imperfect, most of our social structures are in need of improvement and renovation, but in our fear and anger, in our inability to compromise and collaborate, we are at risk of tearing them down rather than building them stronger and better.
What is essential at this moment is to recognize that it is fear that is hewing us apart. The anger and vitriol that we hurl at one another is the product of the anxiety that we commonly experience within ourselves. Tensions are so high because the stakes are so high. If we fail, we fall. So our discourse has become frantic and our patience has worn thin.
Yet if we can identify the commonality of our fear, of our mutual need to feel secure, our urgent attempts to forestall the repeat of the violence that was perpetrated against us 16 years ago today, then we can begin to understand that though our tactics vary, our hopes, emotions, and natural human failings are similar.
Fear is no foundation for our future. It is a destructive force that may yield temporary protection, but will assuredly bring eventual demise. Anger is a fire, not a glue. It may give us strength, and it may bring some of us together to bond in its warmth and passion, but if it does not unite us all, then it will gradually burn us all.
The recovery from 9/11 will begin with a resolution to uproot the fear that was implanted that day, to proceed with civility, patience and resiliency, and to unite in a commitment to the values of democracy, justice, and equality which are the foundations of the society that we all desire to actualize and protect.