Thinking about ... 9/12

Jack Silverstein

Jack Silverstein's Blog

Since tomorrow marks the four-years-four-months-and-one-day anniversary of Sept. 11, I've decided to examine how our country has changed since that awful day.

Now, I realize that recognizing the four-years-four-months-and-one-day anniversary of Sept. 11 means that we will have to think about that day fairly regularly, as it would be pretty silly to recognize the four-years-four-months-and-one-day anniversary of Sept. 11 without even mentioning the four-years-four-months-and-two-days anniversary of Sept. 11. So let's mention it.

I've mentioned it to myself a few times now, and what always comes to mind is not Sept. 11, but rather Sept. 12. Do you remember that day? I do. We didn't know what everything meant, because it's impossible to process something like that in 24 hours. But we did know one thing. We knew that getting through tomorrow would require every single one of us.

Do you remember that first week? Remember praying, weeping and caring for strangers? Remember being prouder than ever to fly your American flag? I do. I remember walking around Bloomington's campus in a daze, not knowing who attacked us, how many were dead or what would happen next. Nobody did. What we did know was that in order to begin healing, we'd need to come together as a country, to minimize political differences and focus on national concerns, to act as a whole with many parts rather than parts of a whole.

And it worked ... for a little while.

But those days are over. Even as we approach the four-years-four-months-and-one-day anniversary of Sept. 11, we see billboards plugging talk radio shows with the big, bold headline: LIBERALS HATE IT! Go over to Borders, and you can choose between the latest gems of social understanding: Ann Coulter's How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) and James Carville's We're Right, They're Wrong. Minimizing political differences and focusing on national concerns? Sure, assuming the national concern is the bias of the liberal media, or the conservative media, if you like.

Democrats and Republicans can rarely talk to each other anymore without resorting to petty name calling. Consider this pleasant exchange taken from NUVO's Web site. The Oct. 26 issue ran a story about the Humane Society of Indianapolis "depopulating" over 100 cats after an outbreak of panleukopenia. The story received 17 comments, some getting pretty nasty. Even in a story about cats, readers on opposite sides of the political spectrum couldn't wait to rip each other to bits.

It started with this comment signed by Peg Warren: "You get bent out of shape about a bunch of stray alley cats getting gassed instead of run over by cars, but you don't give a damn about the wholesale slaughter of innocent human life going on in your own city."

OK, that's reasonable. A good, passionate point. Nothing wrong here. But then ...

"Liberal priorities suck. That's why it's important to keep you knuckleheads out of power."

Ah, what a capper. I'm sure that someone from the left was able to respond to that barb with a well-articulated, insult-free argument. Right?

"Peg appears to be a hard-hearted, bitter and angry Republican with a hatred for non-human life," PETA Supporter wrote. "I, for one, would cry a lot harder over innocent cats being mercilessly killed than over an ignorant amoral person like Peg."

Wow. Just warms your heart, don't it?

Unfortunately, lots of Americans on both sides have taken to "debating the issues" with the same levels of tact and thought as these two. Political and social discourse used to be about listening and understanding, about the sharing of ideas. It was aggressive, yes, but respectful, like a fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

And today? Forget the Sweet Science. Post-Sept. 11 discourse plays more like Fox's Celebrity Boxing: two big idiots mindlessly knocking the crap out of each other just for shear spectacle with no regard for technique or composure.

Or maybe we're more like Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, with one cheap shot crowbar to the knee after another, and a whole slew of rabid viewers desperate to see the bruises.

Is this really what we want for our country?

Is this how we envision ourselves as free-thinking Americans?

One of the most prominent mottoes of the modern conservative movement is "Freedom isn't Free." That's a loaded statement, one used to support the war, but let's just take it at face value, because, at face value, I agree with it. Freedom of speech means more than just your freedom to shoot your mouth off and say whatever you want; it means understanding your responsibility to listen, thoughtfully and respectfully, especially to those with whom you disagree. Freedom means respecting every citizen of our country, because it is your duty to do so as an American.

So tomorrow, join me in recognizing the four-years-four-months-and-one-day anniversary of Sept. 11. I think it's time, and in doing so maybe we'll finally figure out that the best way to honor the sacrifices of American strangers who died on that horrible day is by respecting the ones who didn't.


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