Ground Zero of Dreams

“A people unaware of its myths is likely to continue living by them, though the world around that people may change and demand changes in their psychology, their world view, their ethics, and their institutions.” — Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence

* * *

A couple of days ago I got an advance copy of a book by Susan Faludi titled The Terror Dream, due to be released in October. I’ve gotten only a few pages into it so I cannot say if the book as a whole is good or not. But the premise is spot on.

Faludi explores what September 11 did to our national psyche. In short, Americans as a whole did not respond to September 11 clearly and honestly. Instead, we retreated into a dreamworld of John Wayne cinematic epics and frontier melodrama. In this spectacular we cast ourselves as both the hero and the damsel in distress. The villain role has been filled by a rotating cast — Osama bin Laden, of course, but also Saddam Hussein, France, the United Nations, liberals, various straw man characters allegedly representing liberalism (Ward Churchill, whoever the hell he is, comes to mind), Democrats, the entire Middle East (excluding Israel, of course) and the entire religion of Islam.

As they said in the Wild West — shoot ’em all, and let God sort ’em out.

I don’t blame the American people. We needed responsible leaders to explain to us clearly what had happened and help us rise above fear and a mob’s desire for vengeance to a rational response. Instead, we had the Bush Administration. As Faludi writes on page 3 —

Throughout the fall of 2001, the media attempted to position the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as a reprise of Pearl Harbor, a new “day of infamy” that would reinvigorate our World War II ethic of national unity and sacrifice, a long-awaited crucible in which self-absorbed Americans would, at long last, be forged into the twenty-first century’s stoic army of the latest Greatest Generation. But the summons to actual sacrifice never came. No draft ensued, no Rosie the Riveters were called to duty, no ration cards issued, no victory gardens planted. Most of all, no official moral leadership emerged to challenge Americans to think constructively about our place in the world, to redefine civic commitment and public responsibility. There was no man in a wheelchair in the White House urging on us a reassessment of American strengths and weakness. What we had was a chest beater in a borrowed flight suit, instructing us to max our our credit cards for the cause.

In case any righties drop by here — they do tend to be rigidly literal — Faludi isn’t saying that President Bush should have reinstated the draft, issued ration cards, and called the nation’s womenfolk to work in factories. She’s saying that Americans needed to do something extraordinary to channel our grief and anger. We looked to our President for instruction. We never got that instruction, beyond “trust me.”

Consider this nationally televised speech that the President gave on November 8, 2001.

I said in my speech to a Joint Session of Congress that we are a nation awakened to danger. We’re also a nation awakened to service, and citizenship, and compassion. None of us would ever wish the evil that has been done to our country, yet we have learned that out of evil can come great good.

During the last two months, we have shown the world America is a great nation. (Applause.) Americans have responded magnificently, with courage and caring. We’ve seen it in our children, who have sent in more than $1 million for the children of Afghanistan. We have seen it in the compassion of Jewish and Christian Americans who have reached out to their Muslim neighbors. We have seen it as Americans have reassessed priorities — parents spending more time with their children, and many people spending more time in prayer and in houses of worship.

Yes, huge amounts of money were donated, because Americans didn’t know what else they could do. It’s like the hundreds, probably thousands, of New Yorkers who stood on line outside hospitals that day to give blood, because they wanted to do something.

We have gained new heroes: Those who ran into burning buildings to save others, our police and our firefighters. (Applause.) Those who battled their own fears to keep children calm and safe — America’s teachers. (Applause.) Those who voluntarily placed themselves in harm’s way to defend our freedom — the men and women of the Armed Forces. (Applause.)

And tonight, we join in thanking a whole new group of public servants who never enlisted to fight a war, but find themselves on the front lines of a battle nonetheless: Those who deliver the mail — America’s postal workers. (Applause.) We also thank those whose quick response provided preventive treatment that has no doubt saved thousands of lives — our health care workers. (Applause.)

We spend time with our children. We go to church. We do our jobs. We did these things before September 11. What more can we do? What extraordinary effort can we make?

We are a different country than we were on September the 10th — sadder and less innocent; stronger and more united; and in the face of ongoing threats, determined and courageous. (Applause.)

Our nation faces a threat to our freedoms, and the stakes could not be higher. We are the target of enemies who boast they want to kill — kill all Americans, kill all Jews, and kill all Christians. We’ve seen that type of hate before — and the only possible response is to confront it, and to defeat it. (Applause.)

This new enemy seeks to destroy our freedom and impose its views. We value life; the terrorists ruthlessly destroy it. We value education; the terrorists do not believe women should be educated or should have health care, or should leave their homes. We value the right to speak our minds; for the terrorists, free expression can be grounds for execution. We respect people of all faiths and welcome the free practice of religion; our enemy wants to dictate how to think and how to worship even to their fellow Muslims.

This enemy tries to hide behind a peaceful faith. But those who celebrate the murder of innocent men, women, and children have no religion, have no conscience, and have no mercy. (Applause.)

We wage a war to save civilization, itself. We did not seek it, but we must fight it — and we will prevail. (Applause.)

Yes, yes. We’re ready. We will give what we can. We will do what we must. Just tell us what is required of us.

I’m proud of the way our health care and postal workers — and the American people — are responding with calm in the face of this deadly new threat. (Applause.) Public health officials have acted quickly to distribute preventive antibiotics to thousands of people who may have been exposed. The government is purchasing and storing medicines and vaccines as a precaution against future attacks. We are cleaning facilities where anthrax has been detected, and purchasing equipment to sanitize the mail. Thousands of law enforcement officials are aggressively investigating this bioterrorism attack — and public health officials are distributing the most accurate, up-to-date information we have to medical professionals and to the public.

To coordinate our efforts we’ve created the new Office of Homeland Security. Its director, my good friend and former Governor, Tom Ridge, reports directly to me — and works with all our federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector on a national strategy to strengthen our homeland protections. For example, the Coast Guard has taken on expanded duties to protect our shores and our ports. The National Guard has increased — an increased role in surveillance at our border. We’re imposing new licensing requirements for safer transportation of hazardous material.

We’ve passed a new antiterrorism law which gives our law enforcement officers the necessary tools to track terrorists before they harm Americans. A new terrorism task force is tightening immigration controls to make sure no one enters or stays in our country who would harm us. (Applause.) We are a welcoming country, we will always value freedom — yet we will not allow those who plot against our country to abuse our freedoms and our protections. (Applause.)

That’s fine, Mr. President, but what can we do?

I recently received a letter from a 4th-grade girl that seemed to say it all: “I don’t know how to feel,” she said, “sad, mad, angry. It has been different lately. I know the people in New York are scared because of the World Trade Center and all, but if we’re scared, we are giving the terrorists all the power.” In the face of this great tragedy, Americans are refusing to give terrorists the power. (Applause.) Our people have responded with courage and compassion, calm and reason, resolve and fierce determination. We have refused to live in a state of panic — or a state of denial. There is a difference between being alert and being intimidated — and this great nation will never be intimidated. (Applause.)

People are going about their daily lives, working and shopping and playing, worshiping at churches and synagogues and mosques, going to movies and to baseball games. (Laughter and applause.) Life in America is going forward — and as the 4th-grader who wrote me knew, that is the ultimate repudiation of terrorism. (Applause.)

Whereupon the Bush Administration spent the next six years reminding us to be afraid and stripping away civil liberties in the name of “security.”

We cannot know every turn this battle will take. Yet we know our cause is just and our ultimate victory is assured. We will, no doubt, face new challenges. But we have our marching orders: My fellow Americans, let’s roll.

End of speech. Let’s roll. Sounds grand. Where? How? With what? Bush didn’t say.

The military action against the Taliban and the liberation of Afghani women from their burquas was fine, but we didn’t realize at the time how half-assed the effort was. Osama bin Laden and most of al Qaeda was allowed to slip away, and the Kabul Spring of freedom and democracy withered through lack of follow-up. The Bushies had already turned their attention to Iraq.

In the year after the attacks, many Americans were left in a state of emotional suspension. Their anger and sense of victimization roiled about, unresolved and directionless. The Afghan campaign had faded from the news, Osama bin Laden was still at large, and the challenge of September 11 still seemed unanswered. We were still waiting to be told where to roll. Thus the Bushies easily pulled off the Mother of All Bait and Switch Scams and whipped up a public frenzy against Saddam Hussein. With Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten?” ringing in our ears, Americans were convinced that a war with Iraq was just the thing to get justice for the dead of September 11. Those of us who realized there was no connection — and no threat to the United States from Saddam Hussein — were shoved aside. Anyone who didn’t support the invasion of Iraq, no matter what our reasons, were dismissed as “Saddam lovers.”

And here we are. Stuck in Iraq, lives and resources drained by a war we shouldn’t have fought. Osama bin Laden is still sending us “nyah nyah nyah” videos. There’s still a hole in the ground in Manhattan. The real challenge of September 11 was never met. It was never even made clear to us what that challenge was.

I flipped on the television this morning and saw a bit of live broadcast of today’s September 11 memorial service. The cameras zoomed in on a weeping woman. I flipped the television off. I respect the grief of those who lost loved ones that day, but as a nation we have forfeited the right to grieve. A moment of great opportunity has passed, and it was utterly squandered.

After more than four years bogged down in Iraq, we seem to spend more time arguing about what narrative we’re playing out than what strategy we should be following. Is this World War II? Is it Vietnam? Are we John Wayne on the beaches of Normandy or General Custer at the Little Big Horn? And what about the ending? My dears, we must have victory. We must not leave Iraq without a satisfying climax to the drama, with parades and speeches and a general wallowing in our national glory, never mind the cost. Or the purpose.

At this point it does no good to argue with the war’s bitter-end supporters that Iraq is not, in fact, World War II and that George W. Bush is neither Winston Churchill nor Abraham Lincoln. Anyone who still supports the war is utterly lost in whatever heroic storyline is playing in his head. George Bush can continue to evoke all manner of irrelevant historical references — including September 11 — and it still reverberates in the psyches of many Americans. They are stuck in their dream world and will not wake up.

Update: Little Lulu is still rolling:

But remembrance without resistance to jihad and its enablers is a recipe for another 9/11. This is what fueled my first two books, on immigration enforcement and profiling. This is what fuels much of the work on this blog and at Hot Air. Not every American wears a military uniform. But every American has a role to play in protecting our homeland–not just from Muslim terrorists, but from their financiers, their public relations machine, their sharia-pimping activists, the anti-war goons, the civil liberties absolutists, and the academic apologists for our enemies.

So what movie is Lulu playing in her head? And was it directed by Leni Riefenstahl?

Update 2: Comments on Lulu at Balloon Juice.

Update 3: See also No More Mr. Nice Blog.

27 thoughts on “Ground Zero of Dreams

  1. sadly true, and nicely would think that the history of this would lead the media to take more seriously the election of a president; I mean, leadership DOES matter. But they are still mostly dealing at the most trivial level when it comes to 08..
    *discouraged sigh….

  2. As they said in the Wild West — shoot ‘em all, and let God sort ‘em out.

    Maha, give credit where credit is due. These are not the words of a cowboy – they are the words of a Catholic priest.

    “In July the crusaders captured the small village of Servian and headed for Béziers, arriving on July 21. They invested the city, called the Catholics within to come out, and demanded that the Cathars surrender. Both groups refused. The city fell the following day when an abortive sortie was pursued back through the open gates. The entire population was slaughtered and the city burned to the ground. According to the Cistercian writer Caesar of Heisterbach, one of the leaders of the Crusader army, the Papal legate Arnaud-Amaury, was asked by a Crusader how to distinguish the Cathars from the Catholics. He answered: “Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius” — “Kill them [all]! Surely the Lord discerns which [ones] are his”.

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  4. Good job, Maha. “They are stuck in their dream world and will not wake up.” The Bushies have relentlessly made sure that our dream is a nightmare.

    The prophets of apocalpse (statesmen, generals, radio talk-show hosts…) promote the specious war on terror to persuade their customers of their victimhood, the aim to silence the heresies of reason. Without reason, man wanders helpless in the chaos of his fears.

  5. Way too many of our 300 million citizens are walking around in the 9/11 daze, terrified that the sky is going to fall any moment. Life did not stop that day, but you wouldn’t know it from the way people act. All of a sudden we need to be protected. It makes me wonder how we ever got to the moon.

    Our nation needs psychological help and none of that Dr. Phil nonsense.

  6. Deb, I think we’re still terrorized by 9/11 because the drumbeater in chief, and his faithful minions, keep telling us that we need to be Very, Very Afraid For Our Lives. If “the terrorists” blow up a shopping center, the United States will simply cease to exist! Never mind that Israel and the UK handle these things in stride; America is fragile and clearly can’t exist in that world.

    Like “the terrorists,” the administration wants us to be afraid to help them achieve their various political goals. If they’d stop the drum beat, I think we might all recover. As a group, we don’t need psychological help. We need positive leadership.

  7. Good message , Maha.

    I read on Madison Guy’s blog the word “squandered” in reference to understanding 9/11, and I read the same word here also. I think that it is the only fitting word to describe the healing process on what transpired on 9/11.

    I curse 9/11, not for what happened on that day, but for what came as a result in response to that day. Bush used that tragedy foolishly and maliciously to squander America’s inheritance and birthright.

  8. The “utterly squandered” opportunity does create the possibility for a turning point. John Dean was on Countdown last night and posts today at Salon promoting his new book Broken Government.


    “(There is no doubt that the GOP will select an authoritarian standard-bearer, because these are the people who are most active in the primaries and the most devoted workers in the general election. It is almost impossible for a non-authoritarian to win the Republican nomination, as the party is now structured.)

    As I was writing this closing section an old friend from the Nixon White House called. Now retired, he is a lifelong Republican who told me that he voted for Bush and Cheney twice, because he knows them both personally. He asked how my new book was coming, and when I told him the title, he remarked, “I’ll say the government’s broken.” After we discussed it, he asked how I planned to end the book, since the election was still a good distance away. I told him I was contemplating ending midsentence and immediately fading to black — the way HBO did in the final episode of the Sopranos, but that I would settle for a nice quote from him, on the record. He explained that he constantly has to bite his tongue, and the reason he does not speak out more is because one of his sons is in an important (nonpolitical) government post, and we both know that Republicans will seek revenge wherever they can find it. How about an off-the-record comment? I asked. That he agreed to.”Just tell your readers that you have a source who knows a lot about the Republican party from long experience, that he knows all the key movers and shakers, and he has a bit of advice: People should not vote for any Republican, because they’re dangerous, dishonest and self-serving. While I once believed that Governor George Wallace had it right, that there was not a dime’s worth of difference in the parties; that is not longer true. I have come to realize the Democrats really do care about people who most need help from government; Republicans care most about those who will only get richer because of government help. The government is truly broken, particularly in dealing with national security, and another four years, and heaven forbid not eight years, under the Republicans, and our grandchildren will have to build a new government, because the one we have will be unrecognizable and unworkable.”

    These comments summed up our current situation — and our possible future — as eloquently as anything I could have wished”.

  9. This is a profoundly important subject. It’s great that we’re getting enough perspective on both 9/11 itself and what the leaders of this country have done with it, that we can finally start discussing it/exorcising it in a deep way. With all respect to Susan Faludi, I’m sure her book won’t be the last word, but it sure sounds like an important start, as are your words here. I especially appreciate how, as a New Yorker, your views on this pop up in various comment threads from time to time.

  10. Our retreat into dreamland did not begin on 9/12/01. It began in 1980 in the aftermath of the Iranian hostage mess and the oil price spike. Instead of taking a long, serious look at ourselves and our policies, how some of those policies might have had unintended consequences, and what we could do about that, we chose to elect a semi-successful actor who sold us the idea that it was “morning again in America” with a bunch of out and out lies about our domestic policies and a tax policy that was pure fantasy.

    The interesting thing is why we did that, why we gave up.

    Because I htink somehow we did give up. Electing a man who says, as Reagan did, “we fought a war on poverty and poverty won” for instance, does not indicate faith in your country and its ability to find solutions to its problems.

    This is all very much off the top of my head so it’s a bit disjointed, but I’d like to know why we gave up.

    Any ideas anyone?

  11. Annie (#10) – my $.02:

    By the time Reagan won, liberalism had pretty much run out of steam. Maha has written about this on a number of occasions, but in nutshell, the major aims of the New Deal had been achieved, and the liberal movement then fractured and dissipated its energies into a number of smaller special interests (believe or not, the same thing is happening to conservativism today). There was a sort of complacency, a sense that it was inconceivable that these gains could be overturned.

    At the same time, the right began loudly promoting their vision of America. Their star was rising. The left was truly caught off guard by the right’s rhetoric and organization, and most of all, their marketing ability. The images + fictions sold by the right, of a glorious new morning in America where people would be free of government meddling were a lot more appealing than whatever liberalism could put forth at that time.

    It’s taken years for the left to understand that it doesn’t matter that this isn’t based on facts, it’s based on emotion, and it works. I also don’t think anyone on the left had any idea how big this would grow, that it would ever lead to the kind of mess we’re in today.

    Again, maha has written extensively about this.

  12. She’s saying that Americans needed to do something extraordinary to channel our grief and anger. We looked to our President for instruction. We never got that instruction, beyond “trust me.”

    Good point. There is the popular scientific saying, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” — The same goes with extraordinary tragedies requiring extraordinary reaction. Key word “action.”

  13. Last week in Toronto, a lady stabed herself and blamed it on her husband. Her family kin came and beat the hell out of him. The police arrived and they let him have it to.
    Now tie that to 911 and the whole affair stinks–we been had and after 6 years are still killing the Arabs–for a crime they did not do. 🙁

  14. The trauma of 9/11 and its aftermath revealed unacknowledged fault lines in American life which had been spreading for many years.

    In 1941, Japan ambushed a military base in Hawaii and started a war. The attack destroyed much of the Pacific fleet and killed thousands of soldiers. In response, FDR asked Congress for an immediate declaration of war on Japan and Germany. The entire economy was put on a war footing, production of consumer durables such as cars and washing machines stopped, compulsory rationing was imposed, men were drafted to fight and taxes were raised. A nation exhausted by years of economic depression went to war overnight.

    The commitment to victory was total. The goal of the war was to save the American republic from defeat. To lose was unthinkable, because this meant the end of the United States. Everyone sacrificed, including the families of politicians (FDR’s 4 sons among them) and the wealthy.

    Bipartisanship was the order of the day. Postwar reconstruction was planned meticulously, years before the war ended. Contracts were tendered publicly. Cronyism was not tolerated. Congress effectively monitored government spending. Corruption was rare.

    The 9/11 attack, by contrast, killed only civilians. No military assets were destroyed, aside from some offices at the Pentagon. A dozen men with X-acto knives pulled off a one-time atrocity, using fuel-laden commercial airliners.

    Yet the government, the media and the people panicked. A torrent of fear and unthinking patriotism erased reasoned thought.

    9/11 was nowhere near as bad as Pearl Harbor or the Cuban Missile Crisis. After the towers fell, America was arguably safer than it had ever been, and its military capacity was totally intact. There was no follow up by Al Queda – in the 6 years since, not a single substantive terror plot has been uncovered by the US government (if there were, don’t you think we’d all know about it?).

    9/11 revealed that:

    – American foreign policy is tragically driven by delusions of entitlement and cultural superiority.

    – Americans have grown fat and happy, and are no longer interested in sacrificing for the common good.

    – The Neocon dream of a strictly limited government is now reality. The result is a nation hobbled by policy vacuum, endemic incompetence, cynicism, corruption and fraudulent elections.

    – The US is now a class-ridden society. Not even the most expensive war in history will compel the upper class to pay enough tax to pay even the interest on Iraqi war debt.

    – America is no longer the world’s dominant superpower, as it still claims and as most US citizens still believe. How is it possible to be a superpower at all, when you have borrowed more than $1 Trillion, and $2 Billion more every single day, from your major trading partners and strategic rivals?

  15. I started smelling the stench around the evening of 9/13/01, after all the cowboy lingo being spewed at us. To think, in the immediate aftermath I almost strolled to a recruiter, pen in hand. Questionable evidence was presented, anthrax was mailed, civil liberties started disappearing. Then I watched, weeks later, as multiple bombers flew overhead while I was standing on the playground guarding the kids. What sobering moments, day after day, listening to kids giggling & screaming in the noon sun while those bombers flew high overhead with their cargo of screams. Sometimes they flew eastward in formation; other times they returned staggered like those kids reluctantly returning from play. Revenge is such a waste of life.

    Grieving today for what happened on 9/11 does seem so out of place, especially with all the unanswered questions and the abuses of 9/11 victims for political gain. Thanks for your post.

  16. > I don’t blame the American people.

    That is your mistake and the mistake of many progressive types: blame the leaders but leave the common people out of it (the poor dears!). The public just did not stop to think after 9/11, and that is unforgivable. The events of that dark day were a stark reminder to people of their own mortality. What tends to happen in situations like that is explained here:

    But that is no excuse. People in power will always seek to exploit and increase that power. It is the responsibility of the public to check that power. We failed to do so more than once during the six years following 9/11, to our everlasting shame and regret. Not just in the US, but in other countries as well.

    Will we learn our lesson? I doubt it.

  17. Remember when FDR said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself?” After 9/11, right up to the present day, Bush and his pals, with media reverb, have told this nation again and again, just the opposite — “Be afraid, be very afraid.” That, and not “go shopping,” has always been the main part of their message. I noticed this quite early on. And I noticed that it was quite weird. And that’s when I realized the whole thing was a bunch of crap.

  18. I’ve been known to dream that we had a real President in those dark days after 9/11 – a President who would have tried putting the attacks into perspective for us with a history lesson and attempt at encouraging civic duty. Donna Trump wrote what a real President could have potentially told us: “look kids, we’ve been through worse things than this little attempt at disruption from a bunch of guys riding horses in Afghanistan…”

    I would only add that terrorism isn’t anything that is new or unique to the United States. Londoners of the 80s got used to an occasional bomb from the IRA and just considered it a risk of living. If we had a real President (and not Curious George) they would have again put terrorism in perspective by talking about other models that other countries have used to defend themselves – a real president would have utilized global good will and gotten help from the rest of the world.

    But, alas, we live with our Curious George … (weeping)…

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  20. I don’t entirely buy this thesis– the US is a more heterogeneous society today than ever before, and while large numbers of people still buy into the traditional myth of white racist exceptionalism, many others reject it in varying degrees.

    Part of the the problem, I think, is that no social or artistic or political leaders in opposition to the neocons have offered a simple and coherent alternative narrative– and unfortunately it seems that large numbers of people need some kind of replacement schema.

    In 2004 Kerry essentially said he’d be just like dubya, just somewhat less so– better management of bad policies, etc.. I’d argue the level of discontent people felt with the incumbent and the war is why Kerry didn’t lose by 15 or 20 points with as lame a message as he offered. Although both Obama and HRC have a better presentational style than Kerry, so far I don’t see either one of them offering anything beyond focus-grouped platitudes.

    If you look at the enormous, unfocused discontent that so many Americans feel today, I’d say the time is particularly ripe for someone to come along and articulate a positive yet resolutely post-imperial future for the US. It’s just too bad most of the democrats are scared sh**less of taking on such a mantle.

  21. I don’t entirely buy this thesis– the US is a more heterogeneous society today than ever before, and while large numbers of people still buy into the traditional myth of white racist exceptionalism, many others reject it in varying degrees.

    I hadn’t noticed that I said anything about racism, although I believe the one demographic group who never gave Bush a majority approval is African Americans. But Faludi’s theme is much more about sexism than racism. It’s about 90 percent about sexism, actually.

    Part of the the problem, I think, is that no social or artistic or political leaders in opposition to the neocons have offered a simple and coherent alternative narrative– and unfortunately it seems that large numbers of people need some kind of replacement schema.

    Yep, I hear you on that.

  22. Electing a man who says, as Reagan did, “we fought a war on poverty and poverty won” for instance, does not indicate faith in your country and its ability to find solutions to its problems.

    This is all very much off the top of my head so it’s a bit disjointed, but I’d like to know why we gave up.

    Any ideas anyone?

    As moonbat says, I’ve written about this a lot; see, for example, here. It’s pretty clear to me what happened. Very briefly, the old New Deal coalition that had been the base of the Democratic Party broke apart in the early 1970s under pressure from the antiwar movement and the New Left. But the New Left took the position that part politics was uncool and never moved in to replace the New Deal coalition. So the Democratic Party was orphaned, in a sense. Progressive activism splintered into “identity politics” and single-issue activist groups, which by the 1980s had fallen into a pattern of competing with each other.

    In the meanwhile, also in the 1970s, some far-Right billionaires began to build the infrastructure of think tanks and media that came to dominate mass media and politics. While progressivism was splintering, the Right was building a huge coalition with a well-funded infrastructure to get its message across.

    Regarding “we fought a war on poverty and poverty won,” note that this was essentially a white main telling other whites that “we’re not going to throw your tax dollars at inner city blacks any more.” Racism drove a lot of whites out of the Dem party in the 1960s and 1970s, and the GOP scooped them up.

  23. > I don’t blame the American people.

    That is your mistake and the mistake of many progressive types: blame the leaders but leave the common people out of it (the poor dears!). The public just did not stop to think after 9/11, and that is unforgivable.

    And that attitude is a big reason progressivism became marginalized and the Right took over.

    In my experience Americans are pretty smart about figuring things out when they understand what’s going on, especially about matters with which they’ve had personal experience. However, when something happens that is completely out of the blue, as 9/11 was, and especially when it involves stuff going on outside our borders, Americans need honest leaders who will help them understand what happened and put it into context. Instead, we had Bush, and we had a pack of far-Right xenophobes dominating mass media and bringing out the worst in people.

  24. But every American has a role to play in protecting our homeland–not just from Muslim terrorists, but from their financiers, their public relations machine, their sharia-pimping activists, the anti-war goons, the civil liberties absolutists, and the academic apologists for our enemies.” – Little Lulu

    [She] sees [her] own country as so weak that it is constantly about to fall victim to subversion, and yet [she] feels that it is so all-powerful that any failure it may experience in getting its way in the world . . . cannot possibly be due to its limitations but must be attributed to its having been betrayed. . . . While [she] naturally does not not like [our opponent’s ideology], what distinguishes [her] from the rest of us who also dislike it is that she shows little interest in, is often indeed bitterly hostile to, such realistic measures as might actually strengthen the United States vis-a-vis [our opponent]. [She] would much rather concern herself with the domestic scene . . .” – Richard Hofstadter, “The Psuedo-Conservative Revolt – 1954” (in The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays, 1967)


    Faludi had a fascinating op-ed in the Times a few days ago, America’s Guardian Myths, where she touches on these themes, focusing on how colonial mythic reactions to decades of bloody conflict – starting with King Philip’s War/Metacom’s Rebellion – is echoed in our response to 9/11. I’ll just mention two things:

    – Mary Beth Norton’s argument (In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692) that the trauma of the late 17th C. Indian Wars made possible our archetypal witch hunt – a disturbing possible parallel with today that others have already noted ;

    More of Slotkin’s theme of mythic “regeneration through violence” – I’m in a hurry, let me just link to an (not very good) old post of mine (scroll down to Nov. 26).

  25. Maha, regarding the racism question–

    I probably should’ve just said “racist exceptionalism”; I was responding less to what you were saying than to my own assumption that the rage unleashed via 9.11 would not have been the same if we were attacked by terrorists of European extraction.

  26. I’ve long contended that we are undergoing a post-911 cultural drought. Having been politically aware during the Viet Nam era I expected the mob mentality after 9-11. What I did not expect was the complete lack of voices in the media, including cinema and literature, which could have made a big difference.

    The conscience that was present during the Viet Nam war has not seen the light of day. We have destroyed a culture, one of the oldest surviving civilizations on a planet. Our collective justification for doing so precludes any awareness of the needlessness of our actions and how little relationship they bear to anything that happened to us on 9-11.

    There is a lot of shame involve in being afraid and it is not necessarily excorcised by venting the nation’s destructive forces in ways that leave doubts as to whether our actions are making us safer. The only therapy coming from Bush is that we must remain afraid.

    For myself, I see no other way to snap out of the trance except to recognize the failure of leadership since 9-11 and the true source of our fear, then let them know that they cannot make us afraid any longer.

    I must buy the Slotkin book. I have found nothing since 9-11 that resonates quite as much as the quote at the top of this article. What will it take for people to admit that giving peace a try might actually make us safer?

  27. #16, Ijon, I was struck the same way in regard to not blaming the American people. There was a failure in leadership but each and every person who thought that merely going along was the thing to do shoulders part of the blame.

    There are many fights to be had and there still needs to be one with those who are still asleep, an intervention of sorts, remembering all the while that they are the way they are because of their fear that shame does not let them admit they have.

    There is still hope as long as some remain with eyes wide open and are willing to fight.

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