At about this time (9:20am) on this date twelve years ago, Mr. Mooso, my high school’s principal, walked into my health class (2nd period) and leaned into Mr. Martin’s – health teacher – desk and whispered to him and quickly left the room. Without saying a word, Mr. Martin got up and walked to the back of the room and turned on the old rabbit-eared television. The Today show was on and Matt Lauer and Katie Couric were reporting on an accident that was unfolding in New York City. A plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers, causing a large explosion. Within minutes of the television being turned on, reports broke of a second plane crashing into the other Trade Center tower as cameras had trained in on the first burning tower.
We were witnessing the unfolding of a coordinated attack that would take three thousand lives in one day. Our world became a darker place. When we left high school, we became adults in a nation gearing and chomping at the bit for revenge. We became adults in a nation under a cloud of fear. Politicians capitalized on those fears and enforced an empowered national security apparatus on us. Powers were granted to agencies to keep watchful eye on anyone deemed suspicious and we were encouraged to look on others with not a healthy dose of suspicion, but with a paranoid suspicion. Anyone and anything could be a threat.
So our leaders laid the fearful seeds into American soil. Gradually the fear has turned from the “enemy” and towards the government. First came Bradley (as she was known at the time) Manning. Then came Edward Snowden. They showed us the vicious and pervasive nature the security state had taken on since the attacks of September 11. These are the liberties and graces we surrendered when we launched into fear mode, trusting our leaders of the post-9/11 nation to do “the right thing” and take a measured and thoughtful response to our national trauma. Instead, they pass the jingoistic sounding USA PATRIOT Act with the slightest amount of debate and many representatives admitting to voting for it without even having read it.
We need to take a solid look at where we’ve gone since 2001 and where we’re going. We’ve given up a lot and gotten very little in return, besides fleeting promises of security and safety. All the while, we’ve let our social safety nets and actual infrastructure that supports day-to-day life in this country to fall apart, abrogating the social contract that we hold. We’ve been told that the social contract vis à vis the government is dead, the government is bad, the government is inefficient, et cetera forever and ever, AMEN. Well, the government is only as good as the people we put in power. We’ve let spineless and weak people be peddled by lobbyists and parties interested in ensuring that the social contract is dead. I don’t believe it is dead, rather I fervently believe that we individually are responsible for us altogether and the government is the mechanism by which the social contract can be fulfilled.
We’ve changed, for better and for worse. We can be better.