Home / Top Story / Amid 9/11 unity, America is divided by ‘Us vs. Them’

Amid 9/11 unity, America is divided by ‘Us vs. Them’

Amid 9/11 unity, America is divided by ‘Us vs. Them’


The remains of the World Trade Center stand amid the debris following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Fifteen years later, the country once united by patriotism is divided by fear and partisanship.




Saturday, September 10, 2016, 7:48 PM

Fifteen years later on this September 11, when Americans relive the screaming jets and the falling towers, when the names are read to the tolling of a bell, there will be unity.

Virtually everyone — from since-grown children who absorbed the incomprehensible to the elderly who knew Pearl Harbor — will remember where they were and what they felt when horror dawned. Once again, there will be unity in telling the stories.

The testimonies will be more than fitting and proper in remembrance of the nearly 3,000 men and women who were killed by an act of war born in madness, and in honor of the thousands more who were sickened because of service to country and humankind.

For loved ones of the murdered, this is the 14th day set aside as the annual official period to resurrect memories that otherwise come privately whenever they will. It is also a day for many to contemplate the workings of time, having soldiered on for a generation in unwanted roles of those-who-were-left-behind.

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On a far less intimate scale, at the passage of a decade and a half, the onward march reaches a milestone for pondering the America of then and the America of now.

Were we fools to think that the devotion of neighbors and strangers — to one another and to a nation in search of the common good — was real?

Were we even greater fools to think that the bond of grief and resolution forged by a common enemy could withstand whatever we threw against it?

Yes, alas, we were fools, but there was glory in it, because our high-minded naiveté flowed from patriotism and America’s genetic optimism.

The United States is the only country ever founded on an idea: precious reverence for the individual, which necessarily entails freedom for self-determination.

Such is the unifying force behind a raucous democracy that is a beacon to the world.

It is also a force that today seethes with dogmatically inflexible hyper-partisanship and demonization of those with different views as immoral if not evil.

Yellow roses are placed at the World Trade Center Memorial ahead of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Yellow roses are placed at the World Trade Center Memorial ahead of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

(Mark Lennihan/AP)

My country ’tis of me and to hell with thee.

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The erosion of civic tolerance, let alone cohesion, began, in fact, before 9/11, when the U.S. Supreme Court awarded the presidency to George W. Bush and convinced much of the country — perhaps more than half — that justices had stolen their franchise.

Then came war, the most fateful and potentially divisive enterprise a country can undertake.

With unquantifiable valor, American volunteers went to two battlefields while their fellow citizens went to the mall.

So many fought and too many died, both in a war of self-defense in Afghanistan, whose necessity was clear, and in a war of no true rationale in Iraq.

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Firefighters pray during a moment of silence for their fallen comrades at the 9/11 memorial reflecting pool at the New York City Firefighter Stair Climb in March.


Infamously playing on fears generated by 9/11, relying on intelligence that was bloodily wrong, prosecuting a catastrophic strategy, opening the door to atrocities that stained the national honor and spending the lives of almost 5,000 Americans in pursuit of a chimera, Bush sparked war on the homefront as well.

With lives and deaths at stake, the U.S. suffered polarization from which it has yet to recover and, worse, an enduring loss of shared faith. Ever since, it’s been Us vs. Them.

Us vs. Them after the pride of electing the first African-American President gave way to the realization that many in white America remain distant from the experiences of their black peers.

Us vs. Them after the euphoria of the housing bubble became the misery of lost homes and savings, along with a sense that the economic system had been rigged by the rich for the rich.

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Us vs. Them after the country’s leaders failed to recognize, never mind remedy, that the American working and middle classes had been falling behind for decades.

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Geraldine Davie of Pelham, N.Y., cries after seeing the name of her 23-year-old daughter Amy O’Doherty during 2013 ceremonies for the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

(Pool/Getty Images)

Us vs. Them after a broad swath of America demanded gay marriage as a civil right and another broad swath recoiled on moral grounds only to be branded bigots.

Us vs. Them as the internet surged into an epochally powerful megaphone for factionalism.

Us vs. Them as politicians threw computers at drawing congressional district lines to scientifically guarantee a partisan hold on seats, so that Republicans never have to answer to Democratic constituents and vice versa.

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In retrospect, America weathered 9/11 in a lost age of innocence.

Back then, no one so deeply feared government that high-tech companies boasted of unbreakable cell-phone encryption.

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Thousands of runners and walkers took part in the 2015 Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

(Todd Maisel/New York Daily News)

White nationalists could never have claimed respect, let alone an appallingly wide following.

With rare exceptions, it was taken for granted that police had good cause when they opened fire, often at African-Americans.

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Never would the country have countenanced talk about a religious test for entry or about the family-destroying forced expulsion of millions who had entered unlawfully.

Washington had leaders who could compromise on contentious issues, including immigration reform and gun control, rather than unyielding right-left ideologues who prize symbols over substance and demand fealty with the vehemence of religious zealots.

The death toll inflicted by radical Islamist terror had yet to mount around the globe and it was inconceivable that Al Qaeda would ever be surpassed by a force that combines territorial ambitions and marketing savvy.

Think now, as we link hearts in honoring the dead: Would Americans rally today with transcendent harmony if God forbid . . .?

In mourning, we doubt.

september 11 terrorist attacks

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