As we approach the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I think it would be worthwhile to consider where we are as a nation.
In the days immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as a nation we were united more than I can ever remember in my life. We were united in our determination to retaliate for the attacks, taking our vengeance wherever it needed to go to deal with those responsible for organizing and sponsoring them. President George W. Bush, a figure who had been seen as divisive by many, said and did what he needed to do to bring us together. It was a golden moment. And we let it slip away, almost unnoticed.
In the years since that mountaintop experience of national unity and resolve, we've seen the partisan warfare that characterized so much of the Clinton years wound ever tighter, to an entirely new level of mindless hate and anger.
We've seen our influence in the Muslim world wax and wane, as we've embarked on barely justifiable military campaigns, with still more warfare talked about with other countries of interest.
We've seen our national treasury bankrupted, first by tax cuts for the wealthiest of us, then by "supplemental" spending to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and finally by an economic meltdown that was spawned by irresponsible lending and "innovation" by the nation's largest and most influential banks and investment houses.
We've seen a rebirth of fear the like of which I don't recall having seen since the depths of the Cold War.
We have people seriously discussing the need for "Second Amendment solutions" to the "problem" of the Federal government.
We have lies masquerading as truth, and demagogues masquerading as impartial commentators.
We have a nation that is declining as we watch, apparently helpless to do anything about it.
We are hopeless, fearful, angry, and in denial.
Did the hijackers of those four airliners on September 11, 2001, triumph?
Hope, something that has been at the heart of so much that is great about America, has been relegated to the punchline of a political joke. Yard signs poke fun at the current President - "How's that hopey-changey thing workin' for ya?"
Naked, virulent hatred is proudly displayed on other placards - "Barack Obama Half-breed Muslin." We're too stupid to know how to spell, and we're too ignorant to accept that a statement is a falsehood.
Barack Obama has succeeded George Bush as the man to hate. He's a Muslim, he's not an American, he's a socialist, he's a Nazi, he's a communist. He's not one of "us."
The more extreme members of the American body politic have found a voice. They distrust any incumbent politician (oftentimes with good reason, sad to say). No statement, regardless of how far-fetched, seems beyond their ability to believe, if it hits at the "establishment." They want a return to "Constitutional absolutism," even as they try to re-interpret that living document to suit their own myopic viewpoints.
It seems almost as if the inmates are running the asylum. Birthers, deathers, and true believers of every stripe just know that the "mainstream media" is lying to them - and in many cases, they're right. And how's that workin' for ya?
In many ways, I think this has come about because we've finally moved the internet, with its dazzling speed and reach, into the mainstream and embedded it into our lives. Any opinion, regardless of how crazy or ill-founded, can be legitimized with the world-wide megaphone of social networks, blogs, wikis, email, and streaming video. With 6.5 billion people in this world, no one can police every website that pops up, every blog that is begun, every Facebook page that appears. Individuals who can barely make sense of life can now self-publish their opinions and get distribution as e-books or print-on-demand copies.
The village idiot has found his voice, and now it's the shit heard round the world.
Is this a reversible situation? Can this country find reason to come together, besides our hatred and fear of anyone different? Can we begin to believe once again in the promise of better times ahead, instead of yearning for better times that never _really_ existed?
I want to believe that our best days are still ahead. I want to believe that I'll actually see some of them before I take that big dirt nap. But I have my doubts. I don't see many people who actually seem to believe this. Instead I see people fortifying their bunkers, getting ready to ride out the siege and occasionally go out and strike the enemy camp.
If anyone reads these posts, you know I'm a Christian. That means that hope is kind of essential to my philosophy of life. For me, that "hopey-changey" thing works just fine. I'm not bound by the limitations of this life, in this world. Ultimately, this is not my eternal home, but a way-station on the way there. But this way-station could be a lot better place for all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike, if we'd do a few things to improve it.
Do we really need to pursue a zero-sum game, one where if I win, you must lose?
Do we really need to marginalize those who think differently than us? Really? Why?
Do we really need to be such ignorant shits, so often? We have really good brains - they work best when we actually use them.
Pride goeth before the fall. We're falling for our own line of bull. Is it really necessary to be so proud of it?
Is anyone out there? Does anyone care?