The Moment Change Happened
By coincidence, each of the past two days brought a question from somebody about my political beginnings. The answer to the when is 9/11. Practical philosophy had always been appealing to me, but it had previously followed a literary and cultural context, rather than a political one. That changed on a September morning. It wouldn’t be to presumptuous to state that a majority of Americans chose a different psychological path through reality, that day, as well.
The “Let’s Roll” moment may have been the first evidence of this broad, pervasive change, but it actually occurred at precisely 9:03 a.m., when the second plane hit the second tower. During the final moments of American innocence, between planes, we were all thinking that the first was some bizarre accident, maybe an expression of individual lunacy, or at most a fluke success of a small group of foreign crazies. At 9:03, we all realized that, to put it clinically, this would have to be addressed.
One could make the case that our current politics essentially reflect ripples of that moment. It’s permeated and incorporated all else in the political theater, but the need to fix… that something… is the central fact. On the right, the something is ultimately the West’s belief that it can construct a fantasy in which to live according to social rules that an author of children’s books might contrive. It has a military and foreign affairs component, obviously, and that directly relates to immigration and cultural assimilation. Less directly, a conservative’s vision of facing reality means a return to tradition and morality — at the extremity, seeing our weakness and apathy as punishment from God.
On the left, the fact to be fixed is American arrogance and greed. Behind all of the “root cause” references is a sense that an unmatched lust for power has made the United States the unprecedented superpower against which no other nation can compete. In a secular form of divine retribution, terrorism (indeed, Islamofascism as an ideology) is the fruit of American manipulation of global political and economic systems for its own benefit. A nicer, more compassionate, more deliberately just and humble society would negate hostile response.
For seven years, those leaning toward the latter camp watched President Bush do just about everything wrong, and where he did something they might otherwise see as right, they took him to be draining the visceral strength from their patented plea to their fellow men. The election of Barack Obama to the presidency wasn’t a desperate attempt to return to the reality of 9/10; Clinton, or any other known quantity, would have sufficed for that. Rather, his promise of “change” was a pledge to move forward toward the cultural and governmental repair that circumstances (and cunning deceit) had prevented for the purpose of preserving the machinations of an economic elite intent on exploiting the world.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s being wrong on the importance of a strong, resolved demeanor in the international realm has freed those leaning toward the rightward camp from the inadvisable and arguably calamitous prudence that W. had just about exhausted. In this presentation, the tea parties and town halls are a declaration that the millions of Americans awoken to the necessity of action by the attack eight years ago will not go back to polite submission. They see energy taxes, corporate takeovers, heavier regulations, and socialized healthcare as (probably deliberate) attempts to humble their country, and they foresee the world’s aggressors vying to be the first to knock over the docile giant, place one foot upon its neck, and declare itself to be an even greater being.
Flung into motion by the one-two confirmation that something would have to be done, this back and forth will continue until some event, perhaps in the nearer than farther future, affirms the beliefs of one side or obviates the question. In the meantime, we must mourn, and our mourning must take the form of vigilance and, despite it all, unity.