Thursday, November 27, 2008

9/11 Is Over

It just occurred to me: 9/11 is over. I don't mean that it is no longer September 11, 2001, the day terrorists crashed jets into the World Trade Center in New York. It stopped being that on September 12. And I also certainly don't mean that the significance and pain of that day are now a mere page of history. In many ways, that day lives with us, and will continue to do so, for a long time. But 9/11 is over in a very real sense. So many things about that day, and about many Americans' reactions to it, have indeed now become notes from the past. It is no longer OK, for one thing, for America to go it alone and tell the world what we are going to do and where we are going to do it. The sneering at the United Nations, the attitude that we don't need Old Europe, the cocky belief that American might makes right -- all of that becomes more antiquated by the minute. It is even more emphatically not OK, anymore, to treat people like dogs, or worse. Americans have elected a visionary, and that says a lot about their state of mind now. It's not just hope they want. They want to shift back to idealism and high purpose. Abridgement of freedoms and disregard for human rights is not cool anymore, not even when it is practiced on non-citizens, not even in the name of national security. People have begun to form, and act on, the belief that this nation's distinctive mark on history should be as much spiritual as material -- that we do, and should, stand for something. 9/11 came near the start of the Bush presidency, and the present degree of national closure on 9/11 suitably marks its end. We missed out on the era that could have been, the Al Gore era in which a global outpouring of sympathy on behalf of the World Trade Center victims could have been translated into a tremendous worldwide consensus against extremism -- an era in which American values could have become highly and widely prized. In the nutty alternative given us by the Supreme Court following the 2000 elections -- and, let it be said, by unbelievable numbers of votes for Bush -- we got an Iraq war and, now, a risk of fiscal meltdown. Goodbye, let us hope, to all that. Obama and his people will have to unwind from Iraq, pull back from the financial abyss, win over an alienated generation of young people throughout the Islamic world, and so much more. They may not succeed. But in any case, let us hope that we have turned a page on silliness: that the idea of God standing behind a presidential candidate makes no more sense now, in this country, than it has ever made, for all the dictators and clerics who have solemnly asserted it, down through history. These dreadful mistakes were not God's doing. The memory of the World Trade Center will always be with us. But 9/11 is over. It is an uncertain new time, but it is ours.