i watched the Twin Towers fall through the haze of a whiskey hangover while i sat cross-legged on my living room floor. A good friend of mine had called to rouse me from bed with a near hysterical "We've been bombed! Those bastards attacked us." I'm not sure who she thought attacked us (i never did think to ask her), and it wasn't bombs they hit us with, but our own airplanes. But those details were almost irrelevant as i sat there this too-big pajama bottoms with tears streaming down my cheeks.
As to how the attacks have changed us? It hasn't been for the better: The fall of the Twin Towers wounded us, and made us a people afraid of the world beyond our borders. The obscene amount of blood and treasure that has been spent in Iraq and Afghanistan is staggering. We have created elaborate rituals to create the illusion of security, but don't actually make people any safer. And a huge Homeland Security apparatus that is unmanageable and who's ballooning costs simply can't be objectively justified. And all the while our leaders drape themselves in the American flag and tell us that this war against 'terror' (as if we were making war on the Boogie-man and his allies, the Monsters Under The Bed.) is unending.
We aren't stronger, or freer, or safer (despite what some would have you believe) than we were before the attacks. We are manifestly none of those things. But the thing that strikes me most of all as i look back on the last ten years is the complete lack of vision on the parts of our political class. On September 12th George W. Bush squandered the opportunity to unify not just the people of the United States, but the whole world. He could have rallied the American people to new era of civil service and self-sacrifice. He could have stood behind that podium and said "We have to go to Afghanistan to get rid of the Taliban, and afterwords we are going to build a proper nation there so this never happens again. Go out there and join the military or join the peace corps." Instead he told us to go shopping.
It wasn't just domestically where we dropped the ball. A crisis is also an opportunity, and Dubya had the opportunity to clean house in the Middle East. He could have not only brought Afghanistan out of the Dark Ages, and perhaps brought Iran into the American Hegemony (if Nixon can go to Beijing, Bush could have gone to Tehran). But most importantly the immediate aftermath of Sept 11th was the perfect moment for Bush to put real pressure on the Palestinians and Israelis to settle their borders and create a lasting peace.
I know, I know. Peace in the Middle East? Maybe I'm a dreamer, but he could have done more. Obama is no better. The economic melt-down was an opportunity to right our economy and revitalize the middle class. He opted to put band-aides on the healthcare system. These last ten years have been the very definition of extraordinary times, and our current political leaders aren't adequate to the task. We are a great people, and we can sense that greatness slipping away. But it doesn't have to. If we want to make America great again we need leadership big ideas and the courage and vision to make them a reality. That's not asking for too much, is it?