Look, far be it from me to shit all over your 9/11 unity circle jerk, but let’s stop fucking pretending that we all held hands and sang, “Give Peace a Chance” after the terrorist attacks of that day.
At best, most of us on the left held our breath and waited to see if George W. Bush would fuck up the response. We were not optimistic that the dumb motherfucker who had spent a good chunk of his first 8 months in office praying about whether or not to allow stem cell research, passing a tax cut for the rich, and creating an office for “faith-based” programs was all of a sudden gonna put class and culture wars aside to bring us together as a nation. We were not pleasantly surprised. Once the path Bush was gonna take was clear, we knew he’d fuck it up like he had fucked up nearly every business he had ever run. Except now he had a good cover story.
Yeah, Bush paid lip service to not mistreating Muslims, but it was while at the same time his military was rounding up random Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan and shipping them to be tortured in black ops sites until finally opening up our own torture center at Guantanamo Bay. And it didn’t stop law enforcement in different areas of the country, especially up here in the NYC area, from randomly arresting Muslims and subjecting them to interrogations and beatings. It didn’t stop a range of assholes from firebombing mosques and attacking Muslims and discriminating against them, the Islamophobia taking over mass culture and the news media.
Oh, no, but we were all together, we’re told. President Bush had a 250% approval rating or some such shit, as if people who are hurting aren’t going to cling to each other. But if I’m telling the truth here, when Bush gave his speech down in the pit in NYC and announced that the world was going to hear from us, I felt embarrassed because of how overwrought it was, and I felt afraid because the attack was a crime, a massive one to be sure, and I knew we were gonna treat it like an act of war, with everything that would follow. When Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, we didn’t go into battle with right-wing fucknuts. The same approach should have been taken with the religious fucknuts involved in the 9/11 attacks.
We were unified, yes, in one thing: in remembering the dead. We could hold vigils to honor them. Hell, I put together a concert/fundraiser at my college that had everything from the local orchestra to punk rock to poetry readings. We recorded our stories of 9/11 and sent them to the Library of Congress. That was the glue that could bind us, the remnants of the burned and dissolved and exploded bodies, the way we all watched them die.
We were not unified on politicizing the dead. Democrats were degraded and bullied into becoming co-conspirators in the War on Terror. Look at the way in which, for years after, any slight deviation from an absolutist mindset on war and torture was treated as seditious and exploited by vile conservative cockheads like the now-revered Rick Wilson to destroy Democrats who dared to say, “Wait, maybe we should think about what we’re doing here.” Republicans claimed 9/11 for themselves because it helped cover up that it happened on the watch of a president from their party, and they sure as fuck weren’t going to let Democrats get away with blaming him for his utter failure to stop it, even though he had been warned.
What is this unity they’re talking about? Republicans took unity and fed it to the pigs, forcing through the Department of Homeland Security so we could have mass surveillance of Americans, calling anyone a traitor who wasn’t onboard with the march to two worthless, endless wars, and allowing and encouraging the Bush administration to take steps that increased terrorism and hatred of the United States throughout the world, all while spending us and tax cutting us into oblivion.
Don’t fucking talk to me about unity when voices who tried to tell us that what we were doing in response was bullshit were silenced in all but the leftiest of media. Don’t fucking tell me how everyone cared for each other. We mourned, yes, as people do when someone dies. But as soon as the funerals were over, Republicans decided that unity only meant doing what they said and fuck you if you try to stop them.
That’s what I remember about the post-9/11 United States: a feeling of isolation as my country descended into a madness that it has never recovered from.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on September 11, 2020 on The Rude Pundit, a website featuring commentary by Lee Papa. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Papa.