Twenty years have passed since the morning calm of a summer Tuesday was shattered by terrorist attacks on America as death screamed down from the azure sky above New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
On NBC’s “Today Show,” hosts Katie Couric and Matt Lauer were smiling through their usual morning banter, but their happy talk turned to horror as hijacked airplanes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center near the “Today Show” studios in Manhattan. What started out as a normal workday in New York turned into a day of terror in the teeming city and all over this nation. Aftershocks from the terrorist attacks still rumble across the American landscape today, 20 years after the date 9/11 became etched into the psyche of this country as a 21st century “date of infamy.”
It didn’t take long for spokesmen from the “religious right” to cast the first stones after the 9/11 attacks. Speaking on televangelist Pat Robertson’s “700 Club” TV show two days after 9/11, Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell was quick to blame 9/11 on American citizens and organizations on the political left. “The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked,” Falwell fumed. “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who are trying to secularize America” helped to cause 9/11. Robertson agreed, saying, “I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of government.” In a post-9/11 column at the time, I called the two right-wing preachers “the twin Talibans of televangelism” and wrote that “Clownish clergymen like Falwell and Robertson may benefit by using war hysteria to push their atavistic agenda, but for the rest of us the scudding war clouds will bring only economic recession and political repression.”
In the two decades since 9/11, America has become a traumatized nation that has indeed endured recession and repression as this country spilled its blood and spent its treasure in deadly and seemingly interminable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the aftermath of 9/11, millions of Americans took to the streets to protest those wars, but millions more went along with the continuing conflicts in spite of Benjamin Franklin’s old but still relevant warning: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Liberty and safety are again threatened in today’s America, and much of the threat comes not from foreign terrorist cells but from domestic threats foisted upon this nation by many of its own citizens and politicians. White supremacists and neo-fascists are on the march again in America, and sore-loser supporters of Donald Trump still bandy the big lie of a stolen election. Just a week after the 20th anniversary of the terrorism of 9/11, such Trump troops will rally in Washington demanding amnesty for members of the MAGA mob who were jailed for storming the Capitol during the insurrection of Jan. 6—another date that will live in infamy.
After the 9/11 attacks, Democrats and Republicans gathered together on the steps of the Capitol to sing patriotic songs in a show of solidarity and reassurance for their fellow Americans. Today such a gathering would be unlikely, if not impossible, on a political landscape where the Republican Party has become an unhinged gaggle of nihilists, know-nothings and naysayers standing in the way of even the most moderate political reforms. “Anti-vaxxers” cynically use the abortion rights slogan, “my body, my choice,” while Texas Republicans suspend reproductive choice for women in the state. GOP lawmakers claim to support unborn future generations while denying the destruction of the environment of an Earth that those generations yet unborn will inherit. Terrorism, pandemic and political chicanery have stalked America since 9/11. Writer James Joyce was correct when he said, “History is a nightmare from which we are trying to awaken.”
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