Taking the leap: the horror and the love of 9/11September 8, 2011 4:19 PM
I had dinner there a number of times. I'd seen the view. I just can't imagine people leaping from the World Trade Center towers.
For me, that's the lingering and most horrific image of 9/11. A distressed person in silhouette, taking wing, dropping from the sky in free fall, praying for a soft landing. I've only seen it in photographs, moving and still. I can't imagine looking up to witness it in person.
But doesn't the image seem to describe where we all are, at least figuratively, ten years after?
I was in California, spared the close-up intimacy of the tragedy. But believe me, you didn't have to be at Ground Zero, or know someone in the towers or in one of the planes, to be impacted.
We've all felt the slow burn of 9/11 the last ten years.
As a show of its true evil, the day's dark cloud seems to hover over just about everything.
At Wednesday's GOP debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, riding politics' third rail to frontrunner status, called Social Security "a Ponzi scheme." But if we're short there, it's due to borrowing so heavily to finance an ill-advised and ongoing war that George W. Bush falsely justified with the tragedy of 9/11.
When President Obama calls for the American Jobs Act with his speech tonight and offers up a $300 billion dollar plan to stimulate the economy, Republicans will no doubt grouse and say they won't pay a dime in the face of our historic national debt. But again, we're only in this mess because of the war spending after 9/11 that Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz conservatively estimates has cost more than $3.5 trillion.
Ten years later, 9/11's impact is still with us. Our economy is crawling; our democracy, with affronts to civil liberties, limps along. Our tolerance levels are low; our distrust of others high.
The tenth anniversary couldn't come at a better time.
We need to feel the way we did on 9/11.
At the height of evil came the height of our humanity. There were no divisions, no labels. We were all connected.
We need to feel that way again.
Some New Yorkers say they noticed the change instantly that day. People you never spoke to, you reached out and saved their lives. Or you were merely considerate to the extreme, nice even. It was as if people were from another planet, or in a good behavior zone during a time of national mourning.
People started to care for people more genuinely. It was the good that comes out of the bad.
It was a kind of public love. People realized we were one.
But President Bush and other politicos saw the feeling that day as cause for the kind of patriotism that leads to jingoism. It brought on the overreaction to an exaggerated sense of threat. He overlooked the fact that the evil was an affront not just to our nation, but to all humanity. Bush took it personally and misread the world.
But then so did many others.
The President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders points out that the FBI found a 17-fold increase in hate crimes against American Muslims immediately after 9/11.
Over the past ten years, the Department of Justice has investigated more than 800 incidents involving violence, threats, vandalism, and arson, obtaining 47 convictions.
That's good. But this is the same DOJ that enforces the insidious Patriot Act and the surveillance and wiretap efforts under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This week, DOJ bragged about how since 9/11 it has created its first new division in 50 years (the National Security Division). That's not the kind of job creation I was hoping for. Instead of protecting the innocent by raising the bar, the DOJ boasts how it has lowered the FISA "wall" between intelligence and law enforcement investigation. Raising the bar to protect the innocent is much preferred. But the government is stuck in the "us vs. them" perspective, the one that runs counter to the best aspects of the 9/11 feeling.
It may have been easier for Asian Americans to feel the kind of empathy I'm talking about. After the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, how could we not feel empathy for Muslim Americans, many from South or West Asia?
Perhaps it's easier if you were like Stanley Praimnath. Featured in a 2002 Frontline documentary, Praimnath was caught in the towers but punched through a wall. His hand found Brian Clark, a man he'd never met. Clark grabbed Praimnath's hand and pulled him to safety.
Just one of the stories of humanity triumphing over evil that day ten years ago.
It was such a strong feeling, and it was happening all over town.
Recapturing that feeling again may help us solve the lesser problems that threaten to fracture and doom us today. But it's a surprise how quickly the feeling eludes us.
How else can we explain the inequality that has only grown worse in the last ten years?
There are 25 million unemployed. Economist Robert Reich calls it the worst decade for American workers in a century. Meanwhile, CEO pay is up 10 percent. Bonuses are up nearly 20 percent.
In California, where there are more foreclosures and upside down mortgages than anywhere else in the nation, the state remains the epitome of the housing crisis.
The financial pressures are high. You don't need a terrorist to make you want to jump from the roof.
Forget the evil and the hate. There are lots of people today who could use the love of 9/11. The tenth anniversary gives us a chance to connect to that feeling again.