9/11, An Anniversary of Unity or Division?

The U.S. needs to make a serious appraisal assessing our bridges—of unity—and walls—of hate and division. What benefits, if any, are provided by increasing isolationism? Do they outweigh the blessings of collaboration, connection, and friendship?

Sadly, on this terrible anniversary, I predict a showcase of divisive rhetoric from a White House bent on tearing a country apart.

The world changed on September 11, 2001. The majority of my university students are not old enough to have any memory of life before the terrorist attacks. This creates a real challenge since I never want to tell students how to think; my job is helping them think for themselves. But there is truth: the white supremacist and nationalist groups—that Trump refuses to condemn—present the greatest threats for domestic terrorism and violence; that Trump and his policies of racism and xenophobia are used as recruitment tools by groups like ISIS; that Trump’s words and ideology are cited in manifestos and as motivation for hate crimes and mass shootings in the U.S. and abroad; he has told more than 12,000 lies as President…

In 2001 Americans were much more connected. The tragedy brought people together—there was compassion, charity, and empathy everywhere you looked. There were isolated and heavily condemned acts of revenge violence; those hateful acts did not show the American character. Admittedly there was fear in the air; the myth that having the largest military on earth guaranteed safety and security had been decimated.

On September 11theveryone has the chance to reflect on American leadership. Choosing to listen with a fixed mindset will only act to confirm preconceived notions. Alternatively, one can engage with a growth mindset, by accepting and inviting dialogue. This position allows revisiting thoughts and beliefs to when improvements can be made. I tell students: “You get to choose your mindset, you get to decide whether or not you invite or refuse dialogue, but whatever you chose, and whenever you choose it, I want you to take a second step. Make an assessment of the mindset you chose. Did you choose the right mindset for the situation?”

I do hope my predictions are wrong. The world is burning, there are multiple disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies, climate chaos threatens life for future generations, etc. … strong leadership and collaborative unity will be necessary just to address natural disasters. If we cannot come together in a coordinated and robust response in these cases, then there is even less hope that we can come together for the human-caused disasters, conflicts, and war.

The problem is that there are so many examples of Trump sowing the seeds of division and refusing to water the seeds of peace and opportunity. He seems unable to free himself from his own ego. He is more likely to double-down on his lie that he was “down there” with the first responders, or to assert his wall would have stopped it, than he is to acknowledge pain and suffering. Empathy could bring people together but bringing people together does not make the drama he wants. He apparently had talks with the Taliban planned—ho hum—and then dramatically cancelled. He couldn’t make it to Poland—he instead dramatically cancelled to attend to Hurricane Dorrian—and idiotically congratulated Polandon being invaded by Nazis 80 years ago.

There may not be an opportunity for Trump to reconcile with the Taliban. But he could learn from Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who did make it to Poland. During a ceremony in the city of Wielun, one of the first Nazi bombings on September 1, 1939, he said: “I stand before you, those who have survived, before the descendants of the victims, the old and the young residents of Wielun, I am humbled and grateful. I bow to the victims of the attack in Wielun, I pay tribute to the Polish victims of German tyranny and I ask for forgiveness.”

Perhaps, Trump could acknowledge victims in ways that reflect their past and continued suffering. He would also be well served to understand how empathy fits into relationships. On December 7, 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s simple action of falling to his knees—Warsaw Genuflection (Kniefall von Warschau)— during a visit to a monument to the Nazi-era Warsaw Ghetto Uprising helped reunite the countries; it is likely a reason he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971. Rhetoric is a starting point, then it needs to be matched with action and policy.

Trump seems incapable of doing much beyond stoking the flames of racial hatred and pejorative animus. He just needs to spend time putting those he is duty-bound to serve ahead of himself. The bottom line: instead of addressing trauma and healing, Trump will find an opportunity to make himself central (“I am the Chosen One”) he can exploit, again. Which lie will it be? Will he talk about thousands of Muslims, again; will he say he was there, again; will he again brag aboutthe tallest building in New York (which he boasted about right after the September 11 attacks 18 years ago, though it was a lie). In all manner of suffering Trump makes himself into the spectacle: he would run inunarmed and stop the shooting (even with his draft-dodging bone spursrevealed as a total hoax), he could save us, his crowd size, the votes he received.

I credit him for the time he used acue cardgiven to him by smarter staff when meeting with school shooting victims, which read: “1. What would you most want me to know about your experience?” And “5. I hear you.” At least he attempted empathy and validation.

My cue card has me expressing empathy for Americans and the world as we suffer each day of this non-ministering administration.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Kathleen Wallace
A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia
Andrew Levine
Get Trump First, But Then…
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton
Ipek S. Burnett
The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer
Michael Welton
Fundamentalism as Speechlessness
David Rosen
A Century of Prohibition
Nino Pagliccia
Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People
Dave Lindorff
When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role
John Grant
Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America
Clark T. Scott
Bolivia and the Loud Silence
Manuel García, Jr.
The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming
Ramzy Baroud
A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri
Charles McKelvey
The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds
Louis Proyect
Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend
John W. Whitehead
Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded
Patrick Bond
As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
Negin Owliaei
Time for a Billionaire Ban
Binoy Kampmark
Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition
Bernard Marszalek
Toward a Counterculture of Rebellion
Brian Horejsi
The Benefits of Environmental Citizenship
Brian Cloughley
All That Gunsmoke
Graham Peebles
Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society?
Jonah Raskin
Black, Blue, Jazzy and Beat Down to His Bones: Being Bob Kaufman
John Kendall Hawkins
Treason as a Lifestyle: I’ll Drink to That
Manuel García, Jr.
Heartrending Antiwar Songs
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Poetry and Political Struggle: The Dialectics of Rhyme
Ben Terrall
The Rise of Silicon Valley
David Yearsley
Performance Anxiety