There will never be another 9/11
"One of the first things you would hear is the assignment of blame through a political lens."
The last midterm election in which the governing party did not see its power shrink was 20 years ago in 2002, a year and two months after the worst terrorist attack in American history.
In October of that year, Congress voted overwhelmingly to authorize U.S. force in Iraq, with the likes of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry supplying President George W. Bush a 77-23 Senate vote for war, easily clearing the two-thirds marker that the chamber regularly fails to surpass on considerably less profound matters today.
Sailing with an approval rating in the mid-60s, Bush’s popularity provided the grease to flip two Senate seats into the GOP’s column — enough to recapture the chamber — while adding eight seats to the Republican-controlled House.
It was the first time in 68 years a party in power had beaten the obstinate midterm curse. It may be the last for a long while.
The reason was as clear as the late summer blue sky on that harrowing morning: The unprecedented unity the country had sewn in the wake of the September 11th calamity.
Marco Rubio doesn’t think that patriotic harmony can be summoned again. Maybe ever.
It’s a theory that continues to be tested, but so far the Florida senator’s supposition looks damningly correct.
“If 9/11 happened today, I’m not convinced our reaction as a nation would be the same. If 9/11 happened today, unfortunately one of the first things you would hear is the assignment of blame through a political lens,” Rubio told Tim Alberta for the epilogue of his book, “American Carnage” which published in 2019. “People would need some theory as to why this happened. And that’s true of any major event: hurricanes, school shootings, pandemics. The immediate reaction is we need a political villain. And so, 9/11 was that last unique period of time.”
In the three years since Rubio’s remarks, our nation has experienced two seismic events that, while aren’t congruent to 9/11, will endure as moments that had the potential to assemble powerful, sweeping consensus, but overwhelmingly failed to: The coronavirus pandemic & the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election through a ferocious siege of the U.S. Capitol.
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Remember that in 2000, though many Democrats believed Al Gore was robbed by the halting of the count in Florida, they begrudgingly conceded defeat for the good of the nation and Gore largely receded from public life.
There’s a scenario where even if one believed the 2020 election was unfair —through Mark Zuckerberg-funded election equipment upgrades in Democratic cities — or stolen — due to the improper counting of ballots — that same person could also witness the mob attack on Congress, and the MAGA-linked cast of characters who predicted it, buoyed it and then downplayed it, and find it all utterly deplorable and even irredeemable.
A riot is defined as a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd. An insurrection is a violent uprising against an authority or government. The Jan. 6 videos available to support these descriptions could fill stacks of old VHS tapes.
And yet 35% to 50% of the country can’t acknowledge plain reality. Is it even necessary to say anymore who has chosen to keep their caps pulled over their eyes? (Click here and see how long you need to properly define what transpired.)
The pandemic — due to its sheer length, unpredictability, and far-reaching economic, health and political effects — is probably the second biggest event of my lifetime, after 9/11.
Unlike Jan. 6 where one side is clearly culpable, the sheer exhaustion with the coronavirus produced badwill on, dare I say it, “both sides.”
The careless right maligned the scientific community so thoroughly that its followers decided to shun the only true pathway out of the pandemic. The overly-cautious mask-obsessed left maliciously mocked those who chose not to insert a rapidly manufactured vaccine into their cells and paid the price.
In the final months of former President Donald Trump’s term, approval of his handling of Covid-19 lingered around 37%. As coronavirus strains become more a low-risk part of everyday life, President Joe Biden has tracked about 10 points ahead of his predecessor on the issue.
But even on this, he receives few accolades from Republicans. Just 18% approve of Biden’s Covid response.
The lockdowns are over, as are most of the mask and vaccine mandates that impacted Americans. And yet Biden is far from George W. Bush levels of unity on an issue that now looks manageably contained in the near-term. Because you think Biden is bumbling, senile or spending too much money, there’s no room to hand him a high-five on even a lower-level concern. And that’s if you even concede he’s the legitimate president, a reach for considerable swath of the country.
The search and seizure of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate this week is comparatively less significant than the aforementioned crises. And yet the absurdly reflexive reaction to it reminded me of Rubio’s declaration: The automatic assignment of blame through a political lens.
There can no longer be widespread national agreement that an FBI raid of a government official is problematic for that said official, especially one who commands the insatiable loyalty of the 45th president.
The FBI, sometimes referred to as “law and order” could be the real bad guys here. Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, suggested on national television that agents might’ve planted evidence against Trump. (Prominent liberals, it should be said, are often critical of reporters taking the initial police report at face value when covering a fatal officer-involved shooting.) Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona said the FBI must be destroyed. A Republican candidate for attorney general in Nevada, Sigal Chattah, suggested this search could trigger a civil war. Steve Bannon, a former senior White House official, proclaimed portions of the “deep State” apparatus, might attempt to assassinate his former boss.
Imagine, for a second, Karl Rove plopped on the couch of Fox and Friends casually suggesting the Obama administration might try to off George W. Bush because of the Democratic administration’s push to end the Iraq War.
You snickered, didn’t you.
Assassination. Civil war. The abolishment of federal law enforcement. Does this sound like a serious political party? Or should their extremism be taken more seriously because of the violence it could stir?
As someone who always tries to center my reporting around questioning the prevailing conventional wisdom and developing alternative theories to popular developing narratives, I find skepticism to be a hallmark of a vibrant democracy.
But the Trump era — and yes, it’s this specific era that shoulders the blame for most of this phenomenon — has ushered in a new normal of contorting healthy scrutiny into evidence-free conspiracy-fueled, paranoia-laden swash-buckling. Sometimes, it’s done just for fun, to #trigger the libs.
Author Warren Berger recently provided a way to separate a truly critical thinker from one who is just trying to stir the pot.
True critical thinkers are constantly asking themselves, Am I fairly considering all sides of this issue? Am I open to new information that may conflict with my own views? Someone who is asking skeptical questions but only in one direction — namely, to support or defend a particular point of view — is engaging in what the Foundation for Critical Thinking calls “weak-sense critical thinking.”
It’s this surge of “weak-sense, evidence-free critical thinking” by prominent voices and elected officials that has overtaken much of our political discourse and planted permanent seeds of distrust in our government, media, scientists and even law enforcement.
It’s why a modern American president from either party will struggle to achieve overwhelming popularity.
It’s why the men in blue are heroes when they’re arresting members of the other tribe, but suspect when they’re targeting the team wearing our jerseys.
On Thursday, the first snap poll measured national reaction to the FBI versus Trump and you’ll be unsurprised to find that it again, reflected a nation divided.
49 percent — just about half of registered voters surveyed by Morning Consult — approved of the search heard round the world.
Forty-nine percent may be enough to squeak out an electoral victory; but it’s far from achieving any consensus in a country.
It’s another kernel of evidence that the unity this country experienced after 9/11 is impossible to foresee again.
What would it take to break America’s cycle of impulsive political villainization?
It’ll require a prominent politician, like say Rubio, summoning the unique courage to push back on his own tribe, and challenge those who trust him to critically examine the plain facts before us, rather than postulate about politically advantageous hypotheticals that haven’t occurred.
Instead, Rubio, who is up for re-election this November, joined the rhetorical mob piling up against the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
He went on Fox News to say that conservatives who complain about the inquiry into Trump could be arrested themselves.
He underlined the urgency for Republicans to win back Congress this year, in order to subpoena and investigate the FBI and Justice Department.
“What comes around goes around,” Rubio warned. “One day they won’t be in power and whoever is in power, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on them to do it back to the other side and now we do become a banana republic.”
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