- The Latest
This month ushered in the most difficult remembrance of 9/11 yet. It was a reminder of how much we’ve missed, how much we’ve squandered since that Tuesday morning nine years ago. It was a day when the impossible seemed to make everything possible. The world rallied to our support. For weeks people lined up at blood banks to offer something, anything, their very blood…when it was clear by noon that day there was no one to give blood to. And these children of the Greatest Generation were waiting for word. They asked, “what can we do?” These children whose parents and grandparents had sacrificed over and over again, personally and collectively, saving newspapers, aluminum foil, tin cans, rubber, in an effort to achieve a common goal. These children were not told, “sacrifice,” they were told, “shop.” These children were told the opposite of what their parents were told, “be afraid.” And, if the true goal of terrorists is to instill fear, then, by every measure I can see, they succeeded.
During the 2008 election I thought that we finally might see an end to the hyper-polarization that had plagued this country since the last “Contract on America” in 1994. After 8 years of the Right hating Bill Clinton and the Left hating W, maybe we had a chance. I realize now it doesn’t matter who’s there. Conflict sells better than cooperation. The Republicans have shown they are able to hold the entire nation hostage by just sitting on their hands. The Democrats have reminded us just what an utterly inept ruling party they can be. One of the most charismatic speakers in campaign history has proven an amazingly unpersuasive President. And that leaves the floor to the crazies.
Even on September 11th, a day that offers a chance for reflection and rare common cause, the fringe factions, along with their enablers, the increasingly irresponsible news media, shout, “Look over here: a “victory mosque” near Ground Zero! Right over there, where there’s been a mosque for forty years. Just past the strip joint and the gambling parlor! Hallowed ground!” “Look over here: a pastor in Florida with a 50-person congregation is going to burn Korans!” And we watch this train-wreck of bad taste and worse choices and wonder, “Where are the grown-ups?”
Where are the grown-ups, indeed. Where are the leaders who are able to talk ideas rather than mere ideology? Who are able to find good ideas across the spectrum and courageously tackle the big problems that face us all. Democrat or Republican, when you lose your house, when your child is sick, when your job is threatened, when the bomb goes off in the marketplace, the hurt is real, the rain falls on every part of town. Where is the leader who will utter the “S-word,” sacrifice? And where is the citizenry that will hear it, and selflessly agree?
In a world of twisted math, we want everything for nothing. Free music from the internet. Two wars, served with tax cuts and plenty of poor people to fight it. Cheap labor but no illegal immigrants to provide it, thank you very much. Decent health care but no overseer that can keep rapacious insurers in check, that’d be socialism. Like Social Security. Or public libraries. It’s the idolatry of ideology and, midst the roar of talk radio, partisan rancor, and distracting sideshows, reasonable people keep waiting for that still, small voice. An adult. A leader. Who is not afraid to speak difficult truths. History shows we are not kind to such people. But history also shows how desperately we need them.
Maybe next September 11th, the tenth anniversary of that day, things might be different. Maybe it can be a day that unites, rather than divides, us. Maybe we can lay to rest the fear that has allowed us to forgive torture, secrecy, and spying on our fellow citizens. Defeating terrorism is not going to happen in Afghanistan or in Baghdad. It happens in our collective heart, when we refuse to be terrorized. When the weapons of the weak do not work. Maybe next September 11th we can honor the victims and the heroes of that day with something that they know all too well: sacrifice and selflessness.