16 years on

It was a crystal clear morning. Mr. Martin’s health class went about as normally as it always went, until a knock at the door. Mr. Martin went over and conferred briefly and then went to the back of the classroom where there was a rabbit-eared television on a rickety cart. He turned on the television. We were greeted by speculation. There had been a horrible accident and a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

And then, very quickly, it became clear that this was no accident.

I might have slept a couple hours that night, having been glued to the television all day, anxious for what was going on, despite my own personal isolation from where anything might actually happen. After school wrapped up on September 11, 2001, my sister and I did what we always did: rode the bus home from school. I refused to get a driver’s license because I wasn’t sure I wanted the responsibility of having a car (and how the times change) and one of the unexpected consequences of that was that I was entertained by myriad hypotheses from fellow bus riders. Who did it. Why they did it. All cracked out of the imaginations of 14 to 18 year old public high school students.

We got home. Bethany, Tom, and I went to Gino’s for ice cream and pizza. Al Jazeera was on the TV in the cramped restaurant. I had never seen Al Jazeera before. The coverage on Al Jazeera was a breath of fresh air – it was detached and not filled with the rancor and emotion that we had been watching all day on CNN and (MS)NBC. The journalists were calm and not fueling rampant speculation.

I probably didn’t eat – whenever I get anxious, the first thing to go is my appetite. At some point thereafter, I left and walked a bit and ended up walking to my school district’s Superintendent’s house. This wasn’t terribly unusual, Mr. deGrandpr√© was the faculty advisor of the Key Club, of which I had lately served as the President. He invited me in and we discussed what this all meant as cameras panned in and around the smoldering rubble of lower Manhattan and pulverised human remains. Who did this? Why did they do this?

It became clear very early on that the narrative was that Islamic terrorists were responsible – something I did and do believe – and that it was an unprovoked act of pure evil – something I did not and do not believe. No one around me tried to bother understanding the situation in the Middle East, our bizarre relationship with the Saudi regime, our support of authoritarian regimes in the region who would be our friends and continue to supply us with cheap petrolized remains of dinosaurs provided we looked the other way and provided support when they cracked down on dissent.

It seems to me, even 16 years later, few people still try considering that. No, it is instead the Great Donnie Show – throw the Muslims out! build the Wall! M A K E A M E R I C A G R E A T A G A I N. All that meaningless bullshit. No, we’re more interested in building walls between each other, between ourselves, than we are at considering what has happened over the last 16 years; instead of giving ourselves to thoughtful consideration of managing the things that we *do* have control over, we, as a country, gave the keys of power to someone who has styled himself in the manner of a 3rd-world strongman. Mouthy. Loud. Belligerent. And incredibly lacking any capacity for compassion and circumspect. Instead of consideration, we created a storm of consternation for others with a President who lashes out at perceived slights in 140-character shouts. The great question is now not will America be made great (again)? but rather, will American democracy survive the next four years?

The last 8 months have been a mixed bag, to say the least. Left-leaning interest in smaller, local elections has reinvigorated the possibility for the end of right-wing dominance in many localities and states; however, the President’s commission on voter fraud will do its damnedest to ensure that it is as difficult as legally and plainly possible to vote. Kris Kobach will certainly see to that. Neo-Nazi and KKK groups have rallied in Berkeley and Charlottesville, among many localities, only to be met by larger counter-rallies to denounce their clinging to the object’s of America’s strange-fruited past. The neo-Nazi and KKK movements witnessed a resurgence after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. I remember very clearly when Obama was elected that gun stores in the Athens, Georgia, area held Obama Protection sales: stock up on those guns that he never said that he was going to take!

That fear, that baseless fear, helped lay the groundwork for how screwed up the United States of America is right now. Most of us didn’t stop to think and examine: we relied on the truthiness of the matter. We didn’t need the head to listen, we paid attention to what our gut was yelling and our gut was yelling that this foreign-named black Muslim guy that the country just elected President scared us, but we couldn’t say that he scared us because what are we racists or something (yes) so instead we said nothing about it, pretended it was all cool, went out and bought guns until we were armed to the goddamned teeth, and went about our lives with the rug bulging from stuff we had been sweeping under it.

And election night 2016 is when the rug erupted. All the vitriol, the hate: President-elect Donald Trump was here to fix it with the magic of his business acumen.

I laid in bed that night, thinking about what kind of world my son or daughter in 7 1/2 months would be born into. A month later, that worry would no longer matter: but still, what world would we continue to bring new life into? 2016 had already made itself known for the celebrities to depart from this Earth and all of a sudden, the election of Donald Trump seemed to promise a repeat performance on a grander scale.

As he looks at the red button, he chuckles to himself. There is no God but Don now. All our base are belong to him. North Korea, Iran, China, Russia, Israel, France, Germany, Canada: all you countries that doubted him shall see his truth. He’s fired anyone who has attempted to corral his energies in any meaningful way. Missile systems are ready for launch. After a moment, when the cameras are ready and focused on him, this big moment that he never thought he would be in in his wildest dreams, he presses down on the red button, looks up and without a hesitating moment, says in to the camera, “Missile: you’re fired!”

And all this because of fear. Because we didn’t stop and wonder to ourselves if this fear made any sense, if this fear stood up to the facts, if this fear was based in truth instead of truthiness. Our fear speaks not from the head, but from the gut. Gut emissions tend to come out one of two ways. Neither particularly pleasant. Please, I beg of you, let’s stop for a moment and reflect and talk about it. The sand is no place to keep a perfectly good head.

-Ryan

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