It may be four years, but it's here. It's all still here.
And it's still buried. Festering. Demoralizing. Scaring. Draining.
Perhaps for a brief moment, just after it happened, the shock seemed to spawn a greater unity, more tolerance. The rude awakening made us drop our masks. Trucker, preacher, professor, old, white, gay, young, fat, clerk, student, married, sister, brown, dancer, christian, father, thin, plumber, black, jew, singer, rich, accountant, president. Man. Woman. The labels got lost. For a moment. I was not here. But my wife was. And experienced it instantly. When I came back, a few weeks later. I could still see it, in the eyes of the customs officer at the airport. The disarmed, clear honesty. The hurt. The fright. I wanted to take that scared person in my arms. That overweight, uniformed, fifty-ish man. Comfort him. Tell him that it would be all right. That at heart, Americans had the warmth and strength not to let this consume their country. That now, this nation would prove that true strength to itself. And to the World, which had watched America go from Smalltown to Superpower in only half a century, could continue admiring this well-meaning, if sometimes overly simplistic people.
But it didn't last.
It has been a consistent, if not uniform, descent into suspiciousness, pessimism, cynicism, bullying, indifference, amoralism, anger, cruelty, hate.
The aftermath was an enormous, protracted, bloody, knee-jerk reaction. With the end nowhere in sight, even now. If a superpower gets hit, at least a few countries will need to be decimated. For every life of an American, a hundred lives of someone foreign enough so he won't have a face. Or a name. Just so that we can feel the revenge. We can close our eyes and experience the two wrongs make a right. Put our lives back in order. Give us our safety back.
And when that didn't work? Well, then the only thing to do was to try harder. In more perverse ways. Demand your rut back. "Go out and shop." "Your home is your castle." Can you remember how '0% financing' was actually marketed as Detroit's contribution to help make everything right again? How monumentally callous it seems today, but at the time, the numbness and surreality somehow made it look reasonable. Yes, if I buy a new car, it will help get things back on track. Plus it will make me feel good again. I mean, I bought a new car that spring. OK, maybe not for those reasons. Not conciously. But maybe I did, all the same.
So, what about this year? Well, this year, it is still the predominant elephant in the room. Because of the 'homeland security' myth/hysteria, it turns out all other security concerns were put on hold. Even natural disasters, and the response to them. FEMA has in the last decade gone from being represented by a cabinet position to becoming just another agency, to actually being tucked away in the travelling circus of lost agencies and fragmented departments that make up the Department of Homeland Security. And when this orphan suddenly gets put on the spot, it underperforms. Is anybody really surprised? Its fate was sealed. Four years ago. To the day.
But there's more. Not only can the roots of this impotence be directly traced back to this day, in 2001, but so can the responses to it. What would have happened if this angel of death, Katrina, had drawn her brush of devastation and pestulence over the southern coast of this country say five years ago, instead of now? Take a moment to think about it. Would the initial reaction be one of disgust, outcry and cynicism toward the federal government for being racist and elitist? Would the public's general consesus, a fortnight after the fact, really be that the powers to be looked at what was happening and coldly and calmly decided that the people dying where too black and too poor to be bothered with? Would any president remotely thinking of his own legacy, however stupid, do something that calculated to destroy himself? No, I don't think so either. If the response would really have been as limp and pathetic back then as it was now—which, as I said earlier, I do not believe—I know exactly what it would have been like: Outcry over ineptitute, deamands for resignations, senate hearings, the works, for sure. But not this outburst of general suspicion and depressive bitterness. No, this is something built-up. Something deeper. This is a people saying "Fool me once...". It's "You may get away with dragging us into a bloody war for no reason, while we are stunned and lost, but try it again and we just will not trust you again. Wheter that time it is by design or just because you are inept, arrogant idiots. Let's see how you like 'zero tolerance'."
I wish I was looking forward to this day in 2006.
But I don't.