This is a moment to seize. The Kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.
—Tony Blair, October 2nd, 2001.
9/11 remains a day of reflection and remembrance. Here's overwritten-but-sincere pieces on 9/11 from 2001 and 2002, as well as blog posts from 2005 and 2006.
As I've written before, I always knew that eventually 9/11 would be politicized and misappropriated, but I hoped it would take a while and the damage might be minimized. However, this year, even with less blatant demagoguery about 9/11 (so far; Bush will speak later this week), the manipulation feels more present and grating to me. "Rising above it" may be the right response for some people, and they are certainly entitled to it. But this year, for me, that feels irresponsible. It's impossible for me to not to think of Petraeus and Crocker and their misleading (at the very least, mistaken) testimony to Congress. It's impossible for me not to think about the shell game going on yet again, the amazing missed opportunities, and the deep moral crime of sacrificing something sacred and profound for personal gain and group greed. In the process of what the Bush administration has wrought, so many have been punished for absolutely no good purpose. I can still feel sad and disappointed, but so far, anger and disgust are frankly winning out.
The 2002 piece linked above centers on a moment of openness and connection that philosopher Jacob Needleman calls eros. In his scattered but extremely thought-provoking book The Heart of Philosophy, Needleman explores how eros is the necessary component for a person to truly change his or her mind or life.
Putting aside any of the more imperialist tendencies of Tony Blair, in his "Kaleidoscope" speech he talks of overcoming intolerance, of greater understanding, of helping Africa and all the peoples of the world. He is not agitating for war. He is appealing to the better angels of our nature. He is capturing the brief spirit of connection, kindness, goodwill and generosity that many of us felt on September 11th, 2001, and for days, weeks and months afterward.
There's a saying that a crisis does not build character; it reveals it. Moments of great crisis, for all their painful upheaval, can also spur individual heroism, collective magnificence and lasting, positive change.
Consider, as terrible as 9/11 was, what an astounding gift the mood that followed was. Think of what could have been done with that. Think of the calling that was sounded.
Think of what George W. Bush did with that. Think of how those given more power than anyone and charged with the greatest responsibility responded to that call. Dick Cheney. Karl Rove. David Addington. Condoleezza Rice. And all the rest. It's the equivalent of a supposed good Samaritan finding someone suffering, and rather than helping him, assaulting and robbing him.
I can't help but agonize when I think what, flawed though they may have been, FDR, JFK, MLK or Lincoln would have done with 9/11. Imagine what even Bill Clinton or Al Gore would have done. How would they have responded?
Just imagine if George W. Bush were a wise or even just a good person. Where might we be now? Think if he had even average decency, intelligence, compassion and common sense.
I suspect 9/11 did indeed shake Bush to the core, and at some level he feels guilty. Fine — but the quality of his response still matters. Motive and intent at some point becomes irrelevant for a world leader who just refuses to change, and would stubbornly persist, even if the god he claims to revere were to part the heavens and command him to stop.
After working with dozens if not hundreds of families, many of them dysfunctional, I know (as many people do) that the almost every quality of a parent, good or bad, is passed down to their child. ("You're just like your father," etc.) Sons and daughters can rebel or change (and parents can change as well if they work at it), but in almost all cases, when a child/teenager is "acting out" they are merely playing out the dysfunction in the family as a whole. That's not to say that anyone is absolved from personal responsibility; far from it. But effectively solving the problem requires an accurate diagnosis, and a "problem kid" who cleans up his or her act but returns to the same dysfunctional home environment will almost inevitably revert. If the parents aren't willing to look at themselves and change as well, and change the game, the old, dysfunctional roles reassert themselves. This is probably most pronounced in families with an alcoholic parent. Typically, every other family member adjusts to the alcoholic, playing some supporting role: enabler, peace-maker, clown, etc. Dry drunks use the same basic social approach as before, just without drinking, never addressing their core behavior or its causes.
This is all to say that many of my own faults (or sins, for those that prefer the word) do not merely affect me. They affect those around me, and depending on the power I wield, possibly people I've never met. Foibles are harmless, but severe character flaws can be deadly. A crisis will often accentuate all my faults — but also potentially spur my best qualities as well. In a crisis, most people move to what feels most natural, and for some, that will be a retreat to fear and the familiar, even if it's dysfunctional. Fight or flight, or even fight and flight. Regardless, for someone in power, all their inadequacies and virtues will be magnified. It's a theme you'll find throughout history (the figures mentioned before, Stalin, Socrates) and in many a story (King Lear, Citizen Kane, Der Ring des Nibelungen, The Lord of the Rings).
For the Bush administration, still working in a Cold War view of the world, already intent on pursuing unchecked executive power, violent regime change in Iraq, corporate welfare, a raiding of the national treasury, and 50-plus-1 politics and a permanent Republican majority, they responded to an amazing, once-in-a-generation opportunity according to their stunted nature. They lacked the moral imagination, the spiritual maturity, the intellectual and emotional capacity to respond with wisdom, thoughtfulness, generosity and grace. Faced with 9/11, all of them could have said, "I must become a better person." Instead of growing to meet the crisis, and facing the world with new eyes, they decided to try to crush and manipulate the world to fit the simplistic terms they craved. They had the power and they abused it. Yes, Bush is incurious, stubborn, a bully, and has always been in completely over his head. As others have noted, he behaves like a dry drunk. And yes, conservative policies, even when competently enacted, normally harm average citizens. But this goes beyond all of that. Many of the Bushies, most of all Cheney, Rove, Addington, Gonzales and Libby, knew exactly what they were doing. You don't hide torture memos from your own Secretary of State and National Security Advisor unless you know what you're doing is illegal. You don't crush discussion, not only preemptively, but also during the process and afterwards, unless you fear and despise other people, both their thoughts and the dignity as human beings. Cheney and Addington in particular have put getting their own way far above getting it right. and both are far too selfish and consistently wrong to be wielding power (one or both fits virtually everyone who's served in this administration). I think it's fair to say that the Bushies, neocons and their cheerleaders did not think Iraq would turn out as disastrously as it did (although some don't seem to care much). However, it's important to always remember theirs are not the mistakes of people trying to do their best and things just didn't work out. They lied and bullied their way forward, not only brushing off every prescient, knowledgeable warning but attacking everyone who offered them. They have always been acting in bad faith. If we continue with the dysfunctional family model, the Bush administration is the selfish, misbehaving child, or adult alcoholic, who simply will not act out of conscience. They only way to stop him is to make the consequences of his misdeeds so dire they're painfully unattractive.
Obviously, we're far from hitting that point, when the press and politicians can clutch their pearls over mean ol' MoveOn.org while lauding Petraeus and Crocker and letting Bush off relatively lightly. It's not even that hard to say you respect Petraeus as a person, but he's just wrong. True, many news outlets have fact-checked Petraeus and called bullshit, however politely, and they deserve credit for that. But even though most of the punditocracy rightly condemned Bush's outrageous recent Vietnam revisionism, it seems far too many of them are embracing the Petraeus farce and helping Bush sell his new Dolchstosslegende. Petraeus says some of the troops can draw down next year, but even then not to pre-"surge" (escalation) levels, and independent evaluations clearly indicate things have gotten far worse in Iraq (except a few select areas). So nothing significant has changed, at least not for the better. The "surge" buys Bush more time to run out the clock, he can claim everything was going great, and if the Democrats push to withdraw, or win the White House and push to withdraw, the Bushies will claim the Dems stabbed us in the back. It's utter bullshit, and extremely vile, unconscionable bullshit at that, but I don't have much faith the press as a whole will call them on that. Nor do I have faith that the press or our politicians will do much to prevent Bush from going to war with Iran, as Cheney and the neocons are itching to do, insane though that is.
Everyone is entitled to remember 9/11 in his or her own way. However, no one is entitled to make up any foreign or domestic policy he or she chooses. Six years later, there's no excuse for such atrocious policies as the Bush administration is practicing. The immediate fear has long subsided, and the cold machinations started long ago. Almost four thousand American servicepeople are now dead, and hundreds of thousands are dead or displaced in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are not costless blunders, and they haven't stopped.
I respect folks like Gavin M. who lost a friend on 9/11 and is also taking the high road. I've tried to do that in the past, and if people just need to grieve, they should be able to. I still think there's a great deal about America to both mourn and celebrate. But I'm also sick of lost opportunities, and I'm aghast that the Bush administration not only can pull this surge BS so easily but also might attack Iran. I'm appalled that anyone could let either of those things happen. Peace and forgiveness are great, but there can be no peace with warmongers. There can be no forgiveness for any of the Bushies, because they're still in power wrecking havoc, and they've never acknowledged their errors. I also figure anger and disgust are better than paralyzing cynicism or apathy. So yes, I remember and honor 9/11, but part of that for me this year is keeping my eye on the bastards who have such deep contempt for us and all that still could be done.
(The song doesn't exactly fit the subject at hand, but did sorta fit my mood.)
(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)