The terrorist attack 17 years ago today was one of the darkest moments in the country’s history. Four coordinated attacks using commercial airplanes killed nearly 3,000 people, destroyed the World Trade Center twin towers and severely damaged the Pentagon.

We were horrified and afraid there might be subsequent attacks.  9/11 left lasting physical and emotional scars on our people and our country. But in that darkest of clouds, there was also a narrow, but distinctly luminous, silver lining—we came together as a country.

Americans were united in their sorrow, as well as their outrage.  Remember when 150 members of Congress—Democrats and Republicans—stood together on the steps of the Capitol and sang God Bless America?  Contrast that with the partisan fights during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote on the anniversary last year, “The days after September 11th have emerged as its own political shorthand for a halcyon moment of comity in the political conversation, a thing to which we might always strive.”

Seventeen years later, it does not feel as though we are striving to put our personal differences aside and pull together. The political discourse has degenerated from spirited disagreements to vile attacks.

A Pew Research Poll last month found that large majorities of Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on, well, anything. Seventy-eight percent of those questioned say when it comes to important issues facing the country, most Republican and Democratic voters “disagree not only on plans and policies, but also on basic facts.”

No wonder our policy makers cannot come together to pass important legislation when they and their constituents cannot even agree on fundamental truths.

National pride trended upward after 9/11.  A Gallup Poll found that the percentage of those who said they were “extremely proud” rose from 55 percent before the attacks to 70 percent by 2003.  However, that number had dropped to 51 percent by last year.

Social media has provided an increasingly popular arena for Americans to debate, but it’s also a platform for verbal bomb throwing and ad hominem attacks.  Many retreat into social media echo chambers to connect with like-minded people, while shutting out disparate views.

No one would wish to go back to 17 years ago today.  America was forever changed, and we are still fighting a war on multiple fronts to try to combat terrorism.   But this would be a good day to put our differences aside and try to rekindle the spirit of unity that enveloped us after the attacks, even if it is only for a short time, to remind us what it means to come together as a country.

 

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