9/11, Fear, and American Nationalism

After 9/11 happened President Bush declared a “War on Terror.” And I remember asking myself what that meant. There was so little information available at the time, so little understanding of why this had happened, that to me our involvement felt purely reactionary. Why put people on the ground when you don’t even know who your enemy is? Why risk American lives for facts you don’t have? So I lost faith in my government and I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school (though of course I still stood out of respect for the flag). I was nine years old and that little form of rebellion was an unconscious reflection of what would become my enduring interest in government.

Even as young as I was, I knew then that the choices our government made would change the peaceful life that I had always known. And it did. Though President Obama has since made strides on domestic matters, we have also been at war for more than 15 years now. And in many areas of our government, particularly in the Republican party, it still feels as though we are motivated by that post 9/11 fear. It’s been more than 15 years, but for many people that fear is still the driving force in their lives and their decision making.

I don’t support the changes our new President is making (and I really disagree with his strategy to keep even his Republican Congress from weighing in). I understand that he is simply holding to promises made during his campaign and to some extent that follow-through is admirable. But it doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s a fear driven reaction to something far more complex than what can be fixed by a border wall.

The Trump administration is acting on their own fears and that of their constituents to push a platform of American nationalism. They believe that isolationism, protectionism, and willful blindness to their own prejudices will make America “great” again. They blame others for the country’s failures, use peoples’ differences as their scapegoats. But it isn’t the illegal immigrants, the Muslims, or the refugees that are holding us back. It’s our own fear and our own unwillingness to embrace the changes in our demographics and values that keeps us from reaching our full potential.

I believe in this country and I believe in my fellow Americans – all of my fellow Americans. I know that we are better than the example our President is setting for us and I beseech you now to help me prove that. It’s going to take bipartisan support to stand up to his administration, to fight against this rising tide of “America first” nationalism.

I agree that our government needs change; too many people have been disenfranchised for too long. But the nationalist and retaliatory changes proposed and implemented by Trump’s administration have only just begun to isolate us from our allies abroad, sow greater division between the American populace, and inspire open hatred of our fellow countrymen for their religious beliefs, gender, race, and sexual orientation.*

We must move forward if we are to reach our full potential as a nation and that means we cannot continue to be influenced by our post 9/11 fears. We must acknowledge the changes our country has undergone in the last 15 years and work to embrace them. We must learn from our past and we must not go back.

 


*I know everyone hesitates to call something Nazi-like, but legalized social disenfranchisement is exactly how things began in Germany before WWII. The Nazi Party came to power on a platform of German nationalism and they made scapegoats of anyone who didn’t fit their Aryan German ideal or who disagreed with them politically. This included communists, trade unionists, socialists, homosexuals, and gypsies as well as Jews. They bore the cost of German nationalism and I will not stand by as America pursues the same course of action. No one spoke up for my family when they were forced out of their homes and into ghettos, but I will not be silent if they come for my countrymen or try to turn away refugees like turned away families like mine in the 1930s.

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