September 11, 2001: Two airliners strike the World Trade Towers, and 2973 people die. The entire planet watches in horror . . . America weeps. It is the single most deadly attack ever, by a foreign enemy on American soil. Islamic fundamentalists claim a resounding victory. 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 now, ten years later, much has changed. We live in the aftermath of an economic collapse that would have left our nation’s largest banks insolvent if not for a massive government bailout. Our jobless rate is at levels not seen in nearly 30 years. 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 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 of conduct 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 who are 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. As Benjamin Franklin once suggested, those who would give up liberty to gain safety will lose both and deserve neither. Today, there is little debate that the “Land of the Free” has given up much of its liberty.
Most regrettable is the fact that we might have come away from this great tragedy a stronger nation, but instead the power of fear was evoked . . . and sadly — it worked. As a result, we learned the wrong lesson. American citizens sat in silent acceptance while fictitious evidence of WMDs was fabricated to justify an imperialistic invasion of Iraq. We collectively bowed as our civil liberties were torn asunder by the Patriot Act. Even today, while demanding spending cuts that place hardship on working Americans, politicians on the right vehemently defend a bloated defense budget that’s more than doubled since that fateful day in 2001. Fear of terrorists, fear of further economic collapse, fear of government overreach, fear of the “other,” the politics of fear are effective and their use accepted by far too many Americans.
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 I am compelled to suggest that 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, but instead of working with the current administration, the Republican Party has veered so far to the right that it has lost any semblance of legitimacy. They are guilty as charged of being the “Party of No,” the party that will sacrifice the economy and the wellbeing of the American people in order to regain power. Their politics of greed inflict severe harm upon our nation, 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. Did 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 did Sarah Palin serve when she insisted upon the validity of her claim that the health care legislation would bring “death panels” — that it was “evil?” When House Republican Leader, John Boehner’s claimed that the health care bill would bring “Armageddon” and “ruin our country,” was he just trying to make a substantive point? Was it just an honest mistake when Senator John Kyl stood and lied about Planned Parenthood, stating that abortion was “well over 90%” of what they do?
Is there any moral justification for spreading Islamofobia, for shouting “government takeover” at any attempt to contain rampant corporate profiteering, for targeting public employees as the enemies of those with “real jobs?” When all efforts to close corporate tax loopholes, raise federal revenue, or enforce regulations that protect people and preserve the planet are labeled “job-killing,” the politics of fear are at work. Is any of this 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. The current cast of Republican politicians has cast their lot; from the falsehoods offered in opposition to healthcare and banking reform to their lies and distortions regarding the Stimulus, from their refusal to support anything that will help create jobs to their overt hostage taking on the extension of the Bush tax cuts and the raising of the debt ceiling . . . they’ve chosen their tactics and must now wear the mantle associated with their actions — they are political terrorists.
While the GOP form of terrorism may appear more sanitary than the bloody world of suicide bombers, it is actually far more dangerous. Their methods are destructive, their process deceptive, and their results are insidious. Republicans have driven a wedge into the American populace. They’ve used fear as a vehicle to divide the people and advance their agenda to dismantle government and destroy any hopes that our democracy might once again control the excesses of our capitalism. They’ve become truly adept at scaring Americans into believing that there must be winners and losers — that we’re not all in this together — and as a result, they’ve persuaded half of the population to fight against its 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, and we will have “let the terrorists win.”