Nineteen years ago, our country went through one of the most horrific events we’ve ever witnessed. The largest mainland attack on U.S. soil killed nearly 3,000 Americans in just one morning. The sight of planes crashing into the Twin Towers as we helplessly watched our fellow countrymen meet their fates on that sunny September morning is embedded deep in our memories.
I remember it well. As a native of New Jersey, I held a special place in my heart for New York. It was “The City” to me. A symbol of everything incredible about America. With its grit, immigrant communities, and innovation, New York was the center of the universe. I remember weeks after the country was clutched with fear. Was there going to be another attack? Was this the first of many?
I also saw Americans get back up from the mat and hold their head high. They looked around and cried out as one people, collectively. President Bush, at the time, was widely supported. His speech on the top of the rubble had Americans everywhere cheering, and we were a united country. We stood behind our flag and recognized the need to look out for our fellow countrymen.
Now, almost two decades later, the country could not be more different. We are incredibly divided. Right and left, blue and red—we have drawn the battle lines. Family members are now disavowing each other over politics and civil discourse is all but dead. Protesters in the streets of major American cities now chant “Death to America!” Such a spectacle was not imaginable back in 2001. Chants like that were what we heard from enemies thousands of miles away. Now they are here in our own backyard.
The COVID-19 pandemic did little to bring this country together. For a moment, we all sacrificed and took shelter to help save our country from an invisible enemy. That patriotism and unity lasted for several weeks before we devolved back into tribalism. The pandemic has only created more division and hostility from those on both sides. Mask or no mask, to lockdown again or not, the debates rage on.
This is not to say that post-9/11 America was completely united for a long time. President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq had many perplexed as to the rationale for such a move. The Patriot Act, while cleverly named, became a hot button constitutional issue. President Bush left office with a record low approval rating. A far cry from his record high approval rating when he was standing atop the rubble in New York.
Today’s America faces an even more dangerous threat today: an internal threat. A growing sentiment that America was never great and that our history and values should be torn down. Our own citizens, chanting the same slogan that our enemies chanted 19 years ago when the towers fell. This threat is even more terrifying because it is our fellow countrymen. They are not some faceless evil doer thousands of miles away. They are us.
However, just like our reaction after 9/11, America needs to show its grit. It needs to rise to the occasion and overcome this latest challenge. It will require creative solutions and deep resolve. It may take swallowing some pride and listening to our counterparts. Whatever it is, the Americans will need to pick themselves off the mat once again and work to save the country.
We do not need another horrible event like 9/11 to unify the country. The ability to do so is already within us, but we must summon the courage and willingness to do so. The fate of our Union depends on it.