There is increasing evidence that the 9/11 tragedy has created a long-term change in American attitudes that cuts across all political, social and economic strata.
On that fateful day ten years ago the terrorists not only took down the Twin Towers they also plunged America into a crisis of self confidence and direction that continues to this very day.
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 has brought forth a raft of new studies and surveys all of which show how much Americans moods have darkened in the past decade.
Many Americans probably didn’t need to read any survey to report what they have viscerally felt for a decade now, that America has gone seriously off the rails with a deeply compromised political system, two wars and an economic crisis that shows no sign of ending. 9/11 is seen rightly as the genesis of that tide of misfortune
In 2000 when Bill Clinton left office there was a $230 billion dollar surplus and America was at peace. The Soviet Union was no more, America was the lone superpower. Francis Fukuyama had written a best selling book called ‘The End of History’
After 9/11 all that changed. Suddenly history was back with a vengeance and American was on the receiving end. It was utterly unexpected and it shook the US to its foundations.
It has been downhill since Now there is a massive deficit, America is fighting two wars and the national mood has turned from sunny to sour as the political process has deadlocked.
The darkness, the wars, much of the political havoc can be traced directly to 9/11 and its aftermath.
A Time magazine poll this week revealed that only 6 per cent of Americans feel the country has moved past the events of 9/11. Ten years after the Towers fell 94 per cent of Americans still feel the impact of the horrific events that warm and clear September day.
It is a stunning statistic that reinforces a stark reality that 9/11 may also has permanently blunted the natural optimism that makes America such a can-do country when it comes to innovation and creativity.
America has a long history of bouncing back after torrid events such as the Vietnam War, Watergate and Pearl Harbor.
Not on this occasion however. After a decade, only six per cent believe we can now move on.
It seems the American gloom and doom that descended soon after 9/11 and which has helped lead to a great recession is set to continue.
Put bluntly, American is still in a funk over the events of that dark day.
Fully eight in ten expect another major terrorist attack , 71 per cent believe that America has been on the wrong track ever since the Twin Towers fell.
Two thirds of those surveyed believed that 9/11 was the most significant event of the last decade, with only 8 per cent believing that it was the election of the first Black president, itself a massive sea change.
The consequences of 9/11 are everywhere to be found. Every time, anywhere in the world you go to an airport the increased hassle at check in is just another reminder.
More importantly, without 9/11 it is unlikely George Bush would have been re-elected. Historians believe he may well have been the worst president ever, or if not certainly in the bottom two or three. The damage he did with reckless tax cuts and wars may never be fully quantified.
The rush to war and the further loss of hundreds of thousands of lives began right after 9/11. Much of America’s civil authority was undermined by the subsequent events and its reputation abroad sorely damaged.
The coarseness of the American political discourse began in the Clinton era with the impeachment debate but it reached a new nadir after 9/11. The two main parties had found a way to work together on vital issues up to the last decade of the century but the new millennium and 9/11 ended all that.
Suddenly Democrats were soft on terrors, not to be trusted, Barack Obama was not really an American and so it went on.
We now live in an era where a congressman shouted ‘You lie’ at the president during his State of the Union speech last year and was applauded on Fox News for it.
It is now, a congress where the evident hatred between the parties is clear and where less and less gets done as partisan gridlock continues. The debt ceiling debacle was just the latest fiasco. The polls show trust in politicians is at an all time low.
The attack allowed a bellicose Republican party to trumpet its ‘keep America safe’ mantra which in turn led to the wars in Afghanistan and more critically the war in Iraq which began after deliberate misinformation and hoodwinking of the The New York Times among other media outlets about the nature of the threat.
The drumbeat for war became a crescendo and America is still trying to extricate themselves.
Domestically the events of 9/11 it also created massive suspicion and fear about outsiders’ whether they be Muslim Americans or Hispanics. Comprehensive immigration reform was another casualty of the 9/11 aftermath.
New York civil rights lawyer Brian O’Dwyer put it like this in an op - ed piece in the Irish Echo.
“ In the aftermath of the attacks, we have as a nation become suspicious of the immigrant and the foreigner in a way that is almost unprecedented in this country’s history.”
The belief that the future holds better times than what we have today is at the very core of the American experience. Americans like to say that no pessimist ever landed at Ellis Island, struck out across the country or founded cities and towns thousands of miles away from their point of arrival.
That message of can-do is the very basis of the American dream. It was articulated in the presidencies of Ronald Reagan when he took on the Berlin Wall and predicted its downfall and during Bill Clinton’s time when the Silicon Valley genius of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs fully began flowering.
How does America get back to that? It starts at the top but Barack Obama despite his inspirational candidacy appears unable to summon that same spirit and fire while in office.
But you can never bet against a country that has proven itself so innovative and creative in so many ways. As they commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11 Americans know that the ability to recover and put 9/11 behind them lies in their own hands.
Remember John F.Kennedy once summoned them to the moon and amazingly they went. A terrorist strike at the heart of their country can never fully obliterate that spirit. The flame has been missing for some time now but hopefully that will not last for ever.
The history behind “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”