The following is an opinion.
I, like so many others this year, felt compelled to remember where I was and what it felt like on that terrible Tuesday on Sept. 11, 2001.
And with the political and cultural divisions so many feel to be widened in recent years, can we ever get back to the unity that tragedy brought about in this country — even for a brief moment?
Much has been written in recent days about the many calls for returning to those days after 9-11. They were days in which we put politics aside and unified in response to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington — as well as what would have been a fourth attack with a jetliner thwarted by a few brave passengers who forced a plane down in rural Pennsylvania.
It was a time before President George W. Bush felt the need to finish the job his father started in Iraq a decade earlier and invade two countries.
In fact, we just recently ended that conflict by leaving Afghanistan after 20 years and much loss and damage to our soldiers and the people of that beleaguered country. But that’s another story altogether.
Since Bush left office in 2008, we’ve had two presidents whose actions helped divide us even further
Bush departed as an unpopular president whose legacy was cemented by the images of war injuries and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His successor, Barack Obama, led the country out of the Great Recession but continued the wars in both countries and further divided us with his Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
This helped lead to Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, receiving the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 and voters rejecting her in favor of Donald Trump.
Trump, whose leadership style oozed confrontation, social networked his way through four years of the kind of leadership that garnered either high praise or outrage from numerous corners of the country.
That style helped further divide us amid the start and height of a pandemic he blamed on China, and an election loss he blamed unconvincingly on what he said was election fraud.
So it was refreshing, if somewhat surprising, that the president in office on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks would urge in a veiled way that all citizens of this country, including those from his own Republican Party, reject the message that came out of the Trump White House in his final days in office early this year.
According to CNN, Bush spoke in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and “used a speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of that terrible day to call out the ‘malign force’ coursing through the country thanks to the presidency (and post-presidency) of Donald Trump and offered an alternative vision for his party and the country.”
Bush spoke at the site where passengers brought down Flight 93 before it could hit a target in Washington.
“In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people. When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own. A malign force seems at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument, and every argument into a clash of cultures.
“So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together.”
Bush obviously was referring to Trump, who worked overtime “desperately trying to weaponize that which divides us” and knew that there was power in stoking resentment and anger in white Americans trying to overcome economic barriers inherent in our system.
That resentment led to the riot that was present at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 after being fed lies about the election.
Bush was appealing to common good in all of us at a time when Trump is working to make political hay out of a problem his administration began in Afghanistan.
The unity of 9-11 happened less than a year after a bitterly divisive election in 2000 in which Bush was elected by the narrowest of margins.
Bush now says there’s another path forward from a similar division in our country. Let’s hope he’s right.
Tom Spigolon is news editor of The News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.