September 11, 2001: Two airliners strike the World Trade Towers, 2973 people die, the entire planet watches in horror . . . America weeps. It is the single most deadly attack, by a foreign enemy, ever on American soil. Islamic fundamentalists claim a resounding victory, but wounded and stunned, America unites and vows not to let terrorism win.
As I look back on that day, tears well up in my eyes. I still feel the shock and the pain, for though I did not directly experience loss, I feel as though I was personally attacked. The assault was not waged upon my person, but at my beliefs, upon an integral part of who I am. I believe that most Americans feel this way. We will forever carry the sadness of that day in our hearts, but because of what happened afterward, it will always share its place with a sense of national pride. We did come together as a nation.
But it’s now almost nine years later. Our nation’s largest banks have nearly collapsed, saved only by a massive government bailout. Our jobless rate is at levels not seen in a quarter century. We continue to amass virtually unimaginable levels of national debt, and we still have thousands of American troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting the War on Terror. Things have changed drastically since 2001. For most Americans, those changes have been for the worse — the worst in my lifetime. That realization begs me to ask the question: “Have we allowed the terrorists to win?”
The sense of unity that spread across our great nation in the aftermath of 9/11 is all but completely lost. In its place is a growing division of the people that threatens to destroy the very soul of our country. How has this happened? Sure, it’s in part a sign of the difficult economic times, but I fear it’s more than that. Even in the most desperate times, American democracy has endured, always upheld by our standard of honest debate and open discussion. But our national “conversation” has changed. Dialog, moderation and compromise have become vestiges of the past. Rancor and vitriol are now the staples of the day, and the only rule seems to be that there are no rules.
Indeed, the political climate in America today increasingly rewards those who don’t follow any rules, those who will twist the facts, ignore the truth and otherwise do whatever’s required to advance their positions . . . and their careers. Sadly, thoughtful response and honest deliberation are rapidly becoming liabilities. You no longer need to understand the complexities of any given situation; all that’s required is a scatter gun of incendiary rhetoric and the willingness to indiscriminately pull the trigger.
It may have been foreign terrorists who initially set the wheels in motion, but we need not look beyond our shores for those to blame for the forces tearing our nation apart. What ails us today is not fear of foreign aggression but rather the internal politics of fear. George W. Bush was quick to seize the day. He positioned himself as the great protector and leveraged the 9/11 attack to justify all manner of aggression and indiscretion. In the process, America lost a significant part of its identity. We might have come away from this great tragedy a stronger nation, but instead the power of fear was evoked . . . and regrettably, it worked. As a result, we learned the wrong lesson, and the politics of fear are now tacitly accepted as part of American politics.
In no way do I want to diminish the significance of what happened on 9/11 or to ignore the horror of violent terrorism. But still I feel compelled to suggest that, in the end, the politics of fear will bring far more devastation than any overt terrorist plot. As I’ve written in other posts, America is in dire fiscal straits; we are threatened on many fronts, and instead of working with the current administration, the Republican Party has veered so far to the right that it is quickly losing any semblance of legitimacy. They are guilty as charged of now being the “Party of No.” But of much more serious consequence is the fact that they’ve become the Party of Fear.
Once the upholders of legitimate conservative views, the Republican Party has been taken over by self-serving opportunists who don’t so much as blush when they twist the most flimsy shred of truth into patently false assertions, accusations, and indictments. For them, the truth matters no longer; the SOP for the GOP has become: saying whatever it takes to instill fear into their loyal conservative following. They prey on hard working Americans, fill their heads with nonsense designed to elicit a fearful response, and thus gain their misinformed support.
It doesn’t seem to matter to these individuals that their lies and distortions are destroying our country, that the hate they work to spur clouds the issues and prevents the dialog needed for resolution. Does Michele Bachmann really not understand the destructive impact of suggesting that the Democrats were moving toward “mandatory service” for America’s youth, where they would be forced into political “re-education camps?” Who does Sarah Palin serve when she insists upon the validity of her claim that the health care legislation would bring “death panels,” and that it was “evil?” When House Republican Leader, John Boehner’s claims that the health care bill will bring “Armageddon” and “ruin our country,” is he just trying to make a substantive point? Just today, at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, former Speaker, Newt Gingrich called President Obama “the most radical president in American history,” and accused the President of saying, “I run a machine. I own Washington and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Is this form of hyperbole appropriate? Is fear mongering really an acceptable form of intelligent exchange?
Make no mistake about it; regardless of your philosophical goals, when fear is your primary tactical method for achieving your short term objectives, you are a terrorist. Our current Republican leadership has cast their lot; they’ve chosen their tactics and must now wear the mantle associated with their actions — they are political terrorists. And while their form of terrorism may appear more sanitary than the bloody world of suicide bombers, it is far more dangerous. Their methods are destructive, their process deceptive, and their results are insidious. Republicans have become adept at scaring Americans into fighting against their own best interest.
When we were threatened by Islamic terrorists, calls went up from liberals and conservatives alike, asking where Muslin moderates were, why they had not spoken up to decry the radical rants of their religion’s extremists. Today I wait to hear those voices of moderation rise amongst American conservatives. When will they speak up and demand that their party cease the inflammatory politics of fear, return to the table, and once again engage in meaningful conversation. If those voices remain silent, then although we survived the 9/11 terrorist attack, we may not survive the political terrorism of the Republican right.