Tuesday is the 17th anniversary of “9/11” the terrorist attack on the United States that took thousands of lives. We remember it as a great national tragedy and a moment to vow “never again.”
It’s appropriate to recall the horrible crime that took so many innocent lives, but we think it’s equally useful to remember one wonderful thing that came out of it.
We, as, a nation, were united. We put aside our partisan differences, our separate agendas and causes, and embraced each other, literally and figuratively. In that regard, 9/11 resembled Dec. 7, 1941, the original “Day of Infamy” which also brought together Americans in a spirit of common cause.
But 17 years later, that spirit appears all but gone. We are divided to a degree not seen since – perhaps – the Civil War. To be clear, we are not predicting here another War Between the States. The division here seems to be between political and cultural tribes; from the dangerous embrace of “identity politics.”
That concept is the idea that political positions emerge rather rigidly from the group to which you belong. No ethnic or religious or cultural cohort is monolithic, but there are some strikingly one-sided affiliations.
Americans have been doing this in a relatively benign way for generations.
Labor vs. management. Farms vs. cities. Ethnic groups banding together to advance their people. And on and on.
But all of that had as its purpose an advance toward the American dream of equality, prosperity and justice. And as we changed, our needs and wants shifted, too, but mostly to a different stage on the same path.
However, the rising road to happiness threatens to become a cultural war, if it’s not there already. We do not compete against the other: we are well on our way to hatred and contempt.
Social media such as Facebook has opened up the Pandora’s box of uncivil discourse. In the former era, the angriest among us couldn’t get access to much of an audience because the local newspaper kept the mindless rants pretty much out of print, for business reasons as much as anything else.
But now it’s open season. Anyone with a smart phone – what a contradiction that’s turned out to be! – can create (or merely repost) an unkind, unfair and probably untrue attack on another tribe. That, of course, not only gives validation to other people with the same loose grip on reality, but also incites members of the other group to respond in similar fashion. It encourages us to only seek information and input from people (and sources) we already agree with, and that sharpens our estrangement from others. And so the cycles of mendacity continue.
We can’t blame this all on Russian trolls trying to divide us. We invented this political and cultural mud-wrestling; the boys from Moscow just piggy-backed onto it.
If this is all too vague and philosophical, lets’ try to “get to the headline,” as the emerging slang suggests. Consider this:
- If you think all members of That Other Party are evil or stupid, you are part of the problem.
- If you describe all members of a different party, religion or occupation with insulting terms like “libtard,” “gun nut,” “cultist,” “snowflake,” “fascist,” you are part of the problem.
- If you are a single-issue person, who would let the country go to Hades as long as you prevailed on your one, narrow concern, you are part of the problem.
- If you are a non-voter who thinks that voting is pointless and futile, you are part of the problem.
- If you think of yourself as a “real American,” and yet hate half of all Americans, you are part of the problem.
No party, no philosophy, no group, no faith has a monopoly on wisdom or folly. As a nation we have progressed and prevailed in large part because we have been willing to work together, to reach out and find common ground despite our varying interests and starting points.
9/11 reminded us of that lesson. Imagine all the good things we could do if we simply remembered and acted on that, the age-old concept of “Americans all.”