9/11: One America

Column by Chris Graham

Think about how much the world has changed in the past seven years.

I was about to write as my next sentence that Nothing is the same, but that’s not true. We still go to work, send the kids to school, fritter away our time debating extremely minor political points while ignoring the big issues, watch too much TV, eat too much, and on and on.

But something fundamental has changed, and I think it was changing well before 19 Saudi terrorists turned four commercial jetliners into missiles and aimed them at the heart of America.

We’re not One America anymore.

We were on 9/11, of course, and I’m reminded of that every year when the date comes back on the calendar. Remember how we stood in public and held hands and sang “God Bless America” and sobbed and stood firm and resolute and said in unison that we wouldn’t let anything, anything, anything, tear at us like that again? I get tingly thinking about it, and I bet you do, too.

A new normal soon emerged, but it looked an awful lot like the old normal that had been in place dating back to the 1970s when we decided as a nation that it wasn’t enough to have to fight a Cold War against external enemies dedicated to our utter destruction, but we had to have an internal Cold War with the same aims in mind to go along with it.

How long has it been since we have just been Americans, not Democratic-Americans or Republican-Americans, or Blue State-Americans or Red State-Americans? We have our flashes, to be sure. I get chills watching replays of the 1980 Olympic hockey game between Team USA and the Red Army knowing now as an adult what I didn’t as an 8-year-old watching it on tape delay about just what it meant to this country to have that group of overmatched college kids standing up to the bad guys and spitting in their faces. The Fall of the Berlin Wall at the end of the ’80s was another seminal moment – Yes! It’s over! We won!

The end of the Cold War, though, instead of giving us pause to relax and regroup for a new future, just cleared the way for us to have more time to fight with each other internally. And since we generally agree on where we want things to go – in spite of what you hear on Fox News, Democrats don’t spend their free time scheming up ways to get your money to spend on condoms for kindergartners, and despite what you read on the editorial pages of the New York Times, Republicans don’t stay up late at night devising strategies to give tax breaks to oil companies that dump toxic waste into habitats for river otters – well, let’s just say that it’s gotten terribly personal.

I think that’s why 9/11 was such a jolt to us. And of course it was a jolt also because 3,000 people died that day, and we’re lucky that number wasn’t 10 or 100 times what it was. But I think the bigger jolt came in the form of our mutual realization that there are people out there who loathe us so intently as to turn themselves into human missiles for the purpose of making a mockery of our way of life.

Six years have passed since that jolt, and I’m sitting here at a computer jotting down random thoughts about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and how they almost changed our old new normal of silly backbiting and bickering over a whole mess of things that don’t in the end matter into a new normal of keeping at least some perspective on how much we all have in common and how great we all have it, when you think about it.

Our government has run up a massive national debt that is only getting worse with its inability to get its annual budget in balance. We’re stuck in one war in the Middle East that we’ll never know if we’ve ever won because we haven’t defined the terms of victory and another that we have to win but can’t because of our commitment to the other. We have a health-care system that is the best in the world for those who can regularly access it, but 50 million people can’t access it.

And yet look at what we have. We’re the wealthiest people in the history of the planet, and getting wealthier. We have a historically unparalleled ability to defend ourselves from outside attacks. We regularly fight and cure diseases and ailments that even a generation ago would have felled millions before their primes. We educate our children, all of our children, to give them the opportunity to be productive economic players and productive citizens in the freest and most open society that not even the most forward-thinking of the ancient philosophers could have imagined.

That’s the legacy of Sept. 11, 2001, or at least it should be. That even if only fleeting, it reminds us that deep down beneath the ugly things we do to each other we are One America.

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