One of the worst things about this year’s political season is just how divided we have become as a nation. I’m not either a psychologist or a political scientist, so I cannot really say for sure why that is; the analysis that makes the most sense to me is that we are suffering from a malaise based on how much time and how little result have passed since the national tragedy of 9/11. I’m old enough to remember December of 1956, fifteen years after the national tragedy of Pearl Harbor. Then, we could celebrate actual victory. We were deep into the Cold War by 1956, but the enemies of 1941 had been defeated, and defeated soundly. Fifteen years after 9/11, we cannot say the same.
There are not very many times that readers of this column will read praise for President George W. Bush, but this is one of them. The horrific nature of the 9/11 attacks notwithstanding, President Bush in his initial reactions brought us together as a nation. As just one example, here is an extract of a speech he gave fifteen years ago this week, on September 20, 2001:
“I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.”
That was a statement by a Republican President, a statement that virtually every Republican and every Democrat in Congress and in our fifty State Houses agreed with. It upheld America’s sense of values, our view of the world, and the rights of others in it. It was firm and uplifting at the same time.
Those this year who support any of the Presidential candidates, from major parties or (if you dislike both of them) from minor parties, could do a lot worse than to consider whether your candidate is one who could, and who will, bring us together in a similar fashion, upholding our American values while at the same time firmly opposing those who oppose them.
Unfortunately, we as a nation lost our way not too long after that speech. But it was a shining moment regardless, and one that spoke of a national ethos and resolve that we need to recapture. I hope that whoever succeeds among our present Presidential candidates is up to the difficult task of uniting us once again, a task that both President Bush and President Obama failed to complete. Our future depends on that success.