9/11’s Forgotten Lesson: We Are One America
This post was originally published on 9/11/11
Remembering 9/11: The Bad…And The Good
I remember September 11 as if it were yesterday. I remember turning on my computer and seeing a tall building with some smoke coming out of it. The photo was small, and I didn’t recognize the building. Having not yet had my morning coffee, my eyes were still half-closed and my mind only half on. I proceeded to check my emails, thinking the media was sensationalizing a high-rise fire that had, more than likely, already been extinguished.
A few minutes later my mom phoned me. She was yelling to me to turn on the TV. Little did I know that I would spend the rest of the day glued to it and that I would witness the fall of not one, but two towers. Nor did I know that these images would leave a mark on my psyche that, like millions of Americans, I would not be able to erase for the rest of my life. For days on end, I listened to and watched the stories unfold:
— The elderly couple whose son was traveling with his wife and child and who had his parents on the phone as he realized his plane was going to crash against a building.
–The story about two friends who were going to a spa in California, but who couldn’t get a flight together. One was traveling on AA 11 that flew into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. The other was flying on UA 175 that crashed into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. I don’t remember which of the two was traveling with her child.
–Yet another story about a man whose fiancée tried calling him, but when she only got his answering machine she proceeded to call her dad to tell him what has happening. I remember her fiance quietly describing her message, then holding up her photo as he held back the tears.
When I was not thinking about the victims, I obsessed about the perpetrators. Did they choose 9/11 as some kind of sick joke? 911 being our nation’s number for emergencies, our number for relief from the bad things that happen to us. I imagined these perpetrators as babies and children, and I wondered how a human being’s mind (and soul) can get so twisted as to allow them to carry out such devastation and destruction upon so many innocent people.
On that morning of September 11, 2001, I was still angry that George W. Bush was our president, and I was not yet over the shock that the highest court in the land had carried out, as Alan Dershowitz called it, a Supreme Injustice. In siding with Bush on Bush vs. Gore, and effectively giving him the presidency, the Court had not only removed Lady Justice’s blindfold, it had muffled her ears so that she could not hear reason or logic. The Court had made a politically partisan decision- something it was never supposed to do.
Yet, when I watched President Bush at Ground Zero grab a bullhorn and say, “ I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people—and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,” I was proud and comforted. At that moment I was neither a Democrat nor a disillusioned voter. I wasn’t even angry at the Supreme Court anymore. I was just an American. And I know millions of Americans felt the same way.
Obama Said It Best At the 2004 Democratic National Convention
After the first 4 years of the Bush presidency, after we had started to feel and witness the divisiveness that the Bush administration was engendering, Obama’s One America keynote speech at the 2004 DNC resonated with all of us. We were still somewhat under the influence of 9/11/01:
“…there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.
The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too: We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States, and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.”
Today, There Is No Longer One America
That speech was given 7 years ago, and to me it seems a lifetime away. Today there is a liberal America and a conservative America. Today there are blue states and red states. Today, extremism, whether it be in ideology or in actual conduct, is tearing us apart. Our political process is dysfunctional, whereby one party systematically obstructs progress and distorts the truth, no matter how dire the consequences, in its pursuit of the presidency. Leaders in the House of Representatives, the congressional chamber that is supposed to most closely represent the voice of the people, are not engaging in political discourse and compromise, but instead they are following the most extreme and illogical tenets of the tea party, a small faction that does not represent what the majority of Americans want or need.
The Republican party, time and time again, has demonstrated its refusal to work with a President who has extended his hand and bent over backwards so many times in attempts to make progress, that some are starting to call him Compromiser-in-Chief. From Mitch McConnell stating that the Republican party’s #1 priority is to have President Obama serve only one term, to the obstruction the Republican Party has engaged in for the past 3 years, to the lies and distortions that have confused and misled millions of Americans, to Rep. Joe Wilson’s cry, “You lie” before a full Congress and millions of Americans, I don’t think that there’s ever been such blatant disrespect for a president, such disregard for a healthy political process and such political gamesmanship that truly borders on political malpractice.
We Must Always Remember 9/11 And Never Forget When We Were One
On this 10th anniversary of September 11, besides remembering those who lost their lives, let’s remember what it felt like when we were all one. Let us remember that “united” is part of our country’s name. The terrorists on 9/11 inflicted great harm on individuals, on families and on our country, but nothing can destroy us more surely or swiftly than the current state of our disunion. It was President Lincoln who warned us that, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
On the eve of the tenth anniversary of September 11th, and following President Obama’s address on jobs, I hope that we all, and especially the Republican party, remember that we are one America. That no one party’s ambition or political agenda can be more important that the well-being of the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and who are struggling to support their families. Nothing can take priority over rebuilding the lives of these millions and putting us back on a path to prosperity.
A lot has happened since September 11, 2001, a lot that has made our differences seem insurmountable and our mutual distrust run deep, but this should not stop us from remembering what we can do when we are united. We must not surrender to despair. We must turn a horrible day in our history into a day of remembrance; remembrance not only of those who lost their lives on that day but also of the strong bond that our coming together forged. This is a truth that we all carry in our souls, some deeper than others. It is this truth that made us embrace Barack Obama’s message of unity and why he became our 44th president.
If we allow ourselves to forget, like we have in the past 10 years, then history will tell how the fall of the Twin Towers symbolized the fall of our great nation and how Osama Bin Laden accomplished everything he ever envisioned and far more. The question remains whether we still have it in ourselves to prove him wrong.