Nineteen years later, the sounds and images have not lost their power to horrify and enrage. The phone calls. The second plane. The falling man. The collapse. The plume.
Yet others continue to inspire. The first responders. The fire chaplain. The man in the red bandana. The flag raising. “Let’s roll.”
It was supposed to be the day that “changed everything.” And for a brief period, it did indeed change a lot. Millions of Americans rediscovered the essential goodness of their country and the basic decency of their fellow citizens. Rock stars and other celebrities gathered for an unabashedly patriotic benefit concert at Madison Square Garden. The greatest presidential first pitch ever thrown became a rallying point for people of all political stripes.
On September 11, 2020, it’s virtually impossible to imagine that America could ever recapture the sense of unity, cohesion, and national pride we felt in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
There are many reasons for that. Here’s one: For decades now, far too many of our schools — particularly colleges and universities, but also high schools and grade schools — have taught younger Americans to hate their own country, or at least to feel deeply ashamed of its history. These messages have been reinforced by other leading cultural institutions.
In recent years, the left-wing narrative has gained stunning momentum. Since the death of George Floyd this past May, it has reached a fever pitch.
I always think back to something Mark Steyn wrote in National Review at the end of 2008 — just before George W. Bush left the White House — lamenting one of the biggest missed opportunities of the post-9/11 period.
“A few weeks after the attacks, Bush had the highest approval ratings of any president in history,” Steyn noted. “But he didn’t do anything with them. And the greatest mistake of all was his disinclination to take on the broader culture that, in the wake of 9/11, looked briefly vulnerable — in that moment when Americans opted for ‘Let’s roll!’ over the desiccated Oprahfied chants of ‘healing’ and ‘closure’ and the rest of the awful lifeless language of emotional narcissism.
“Bush had a rare opportunity to reverse the most poisonous tide in the Western world: He could have argued that Western self-loathing is a psychosis we can no longer afford. He could have told the teachers’ unions there was more to the Second World War than the internment of Japanese Americans and it’s time they started mentioning it to our children. You can’t hold the 90 percent approval ratings forever, but, while he had them, George W. Bush could have used them for a ‘teaching moment’: If ever there’s a time for not being mired in civilizational self-abasement, wartime is it. Yet the president figured he could fight a long existential struggle against America’s enemies in a culture that teaches its children there are no enemies, just friends whose grievances we haven’t yet accommodated.”
Those words ring even truer today. In the Age of Wokeness, Western self-loathing has reached previously unthinkable levels, with the media, the academic establishment, large corporations, and professional sports leagues all endorsing a virulent form of anti-American identity politics. Reversing this trend will be the work of generations — and there’s no guarantee of success.
It all makes our post-9/11 solidarity seem like a historical blip — a moment that was bound to end sooner rather than later. Still, it does nothing to diminish the courage and selflessness that so many Americans displayed on that fateful Tuesday 19 years ago. Their legacy of sacrifice will live forever.