Working through our differences is the only way forward
The real lesson of 9/11 is that we, both in this country and around the world, must unite to solve our problems and move society forward
This is one of a handful of pieces written by NMPolitics.net columnists reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The brilliance of the U.S. Constitution is in its underlying implication that compromise between people with different beliefs is the most effective way to move America forward.
In other words, the Constitution envisions that 100 senators (or 435 representatives, or 112 state lawmakers, or a handful of city councilors) honestly debating an issue can find a better solution collectively than any of them could individually. Being American citizens means we have a duty to seek to understand those with whom we disagree and find ways to work together.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that as the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks approaches.
We find so much in this world to fight about, but, as a nation, we stood united in the weeks following 9/11. We had a common wound that needed to heal.
As that wound became a scar, we drifted apart. Americans now live in one of the most polarized and divisive times in our nation’s history. The resulting gridlock has brought us to the brink of economic catastrophe.
If our actions are a measure of how we want to live, Americans would rather fight over our differences and see society stagnate than do the hard work of finding understanding and compromise. On the left many believe tea partiers are extremists. On the right many believe progressives are extremists.
Shouldn’t we have learned from 9/11? Real extremists attacked us. They killed thousands of people from all over the world. In that moment, we as a nation and a world had an opportunity to stand united against extremism and to band together to turn a tragedy into an opportunity.
Ten years later we’ve fought a necessary war on Islamic terrorism, but also a war in Iraq that fanned the flames of extremism because it so blatantly wasn’t about Islamic terrorism, no matter what America claimed.
Ten years later we’re teetering on the brink of economic collapse, opting for partisan bickering instead of finding solutions. We have so many serious problems that need immediate attention, including the deficit and debt, poverty, energy independence, immigration and border security, the rise of the Mexican drug cartels, our crumbling infrastructure, education, and health care.
Building walls instead of bridges
I believe most of us want to find solutions to these problems. In my experience tea partiers are generally honest people who are concerned about our nation’s debt and other issues and are trying to band together to make a difference. Progressives have strong beliefs that are usually different than those held by tea partiers, but, like tea partiers, progressives are genuinely good people who are working hard to build a better America.
Despite that reality – that most of us are working toward a better America and a better world – we stand divided today, calling each other extremists and refusing to work together.
There are real extremists out there – people who would knock down our buildings in the name of Allah, who would assassinate abortion doctors in the name of Jesus, who would blow up federal buildings to protest taxes and gun-control laws, who would shoot people in the Holocaust Museum because they hate Jews. Those are the people who refuse to contribute to society’s betterment and must be marginalized.
Our U.S. Constitution envisions the rest of us debating our ideas about the future of America and compromising with each other to move society forward. But across our divides, we’re now standing behind walls we’ve built, looking out with our guns drawn.
What you eventually get when you vilify those with whom you disagree, when you build walls instead of bridges, is Palestinians cheering in the streets when they learn about 19 Saudis knocking down the twin towers and killing thousands.
Those images of celebration on 9/11 have stuck with me even more than the video of the twin towers collapsing. There will always be extremists looking to inflict pain and death, and sometimes they will succeed. The joy some expressed following the attacks is what shocked me most.
The lesson we must learn
Such hatred and division isn’t what America was designed to foster. And yet, with some of our policies, we have played a role in promoting anti-American sentiment around the world, and within our own country we are divided. We aren’t succeeding in promoting understanding and compromise abroad or finding it at home.
Our society won’t survive if we don’t learn this lesson: Liberals aren’t the enemy. Conservatives aren’t the enemy. Christians aren’t the enemy. Muslims aren’t the enemy. Atheists aren’t the enemy. Gays aren’t the enemy. Undocumented immigrants aren’t the enemy. Corporations aren’t the enemy. Unions aren’t the enemy. Gun owners aren’t the enemy. Environmental groups aren’t the enemy. Texas isn’t the enemy.
We give power to the real enemies of progress by wasting our time fighting each other.
The real lesson of 9/11 is that we, both in this country and around the world, must unite to solve our problems and move society forward. If we did that, we would drive fewer people to the fringes. Terrorists in the Arab world, America and elsewhere would draw fewer recruits. More people would instead engage in the debate about how to build, not tear down, our society. And their voices would benefit us all.
We must embrace the truth that working through our differences to find understanding and compromise is the only way forward.
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