Back in 2009, radio personality Glenn Beck created a national group (perhaps more accurately defined as a movement) called the 9-12 Project. Its purpose was to encourage average citizens to participate in a conscious effort to try and emulate the period of national unity our country experienced in the wake of the 9/11 terrorists attacks in 2001.
Beck said that he had grown increasingly concerned by the deep division that had taken hold of the American Psyche in the aftermath of a global economic catastrophe and a particularly nasty presidential election. The 9-12 Project was his “pay it forward” idea of making the country a better place through civility and guiding principles, rather than partisanship.
The movement did find some momentum in certain parts of the country, spawning local chapters and even some national rallies, but you don’t hear much about it these days. It kind of fizzled out. Still, I always admired the sentiment behind it.
I remember well the images of George W. Bush rallying the nation through a megaphone at Ground Zero, and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle spontaneously singing “God Bless America” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. I remember the American flags that flew from the windows of cars, and leaders who pointed fingers not at each other, but at al-Qaeda — the true enemy of our nation.
You can’t blame a person for wanting to rekindle a sense of national maturity and resolve, especially in today’s trollish political environment where sport is routinely made out of impugning the character of people, and pitting different demographics against each other. That being said, even among the politicians who shamelessly work to divide us along lines of race, gender, religion, and economic class, there are certain topics that are still treated as sacred. 9/11 is one of them.
That’s not to say that 9/11 hasn’t been politicized over the years. It has…by both Democrats and Republicans, typically in the form of bolstering foreign policy experience or the highlighting of lessons unlearned. But very rarely do we ever hear a candidate or elected official use the attacks themselves as a weapon to inflict damage on a political foe.
The reason for that is simple. Anyone who was of adult-age in 2001 already understands that our country’s pre-9/11 government culture (that spanned at least two administrations) was one of relative complacency in sensitive areas of our national security. We understand that opportunities to capture or kill Osama bin Laden months and years before the attacks were squandered because we didn’t understand the level of death and destruction his terror network was capable of. Simply put, we weren’t on war-footing with an enemy that had declared war on us years earlier, and there’s no one who didn’t realize that fact as we watched skyscrapers crumble to the ground on live television.
Above all, we also understood that America didn’t attack America on 9/11 and murder nearly 3,000 people. Al-Qaeda did that. Osama bin Laden did that. And as a country, we put aside our petty inclinations to vilify each other, and instead united together to seek justice and defend the nation against our common enemy. Even pandering politicians respect that. Even Barack Obama, who has spent years of his presidency blaming his predecessor for practically everything under the sun, has respected it.
Why then, did presidential candidate Donald Trump decide last week to commit political taboo, and needlessly resurrect the pain of 9/11 to infer that George W. Bush was to blame for the attacks? It’s because in this 2016 campaign, there is one highly sensitive topic that is even more sacred than the horrors of 9/11: Donald Trump’s ego.
We can pretend (as many Trump loyalists have) that there was some cogent point being made by Trump in his remarks. We can pretend that he truly took exception with Jeb Bush saying that his brother “kept us safe”, but I don’t think any intellectually honest person believes that explanation. Trump understood, just as everyone else did, that Jeb was referring to the sweeping, consequential steps taken by George W. Bush (and wholeheartedly supported by Congress and the American people) after 9/11, to wage a War on Terror. Those steps prevented follow-up attacks on the United States (that everyone believed were inevitable) from ever materializing on Bush’s watch.
I doubt even Trump would disagree with that, which is why I don’t believe for a second that he has any objections to what Jeb actually said. What he almost certainly objects to is the huge ovation Jeb received (at Donald’s expense) for saying it at the nationally-televised CNN debate.
The incident clearly embarrassed Trump, and if we’ve leaned anything from this campaign, it’s that Trump hates — and I mean HATES — having his ego bruised. It’s what compelled him to mock American POWs for being captured. It’s what began his months-long obsession with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly that continues to this day. It’s what drives his insistence that anyone who disagrees with him is “stupid” and “a loser.” And now, it’s what is compelling him to re-litigate a topic as sensitive as 9/11.
None of these things have been done in the name of advancing the country or conservative governance, of course. The nourishment of a billionaire’s damaged pride has become the overriding media narrative of this campaign, rather than dueling ideas or records of leadership. Some would even say its the entire basis for Trump’s candidacy — a thumb in the eye of the pundits who unanimously laughed off the notion of “President Trump” four years ago.
Regardless, we on the right are getting the primary we deserve by joining the liberals in flocking to breathtaking hyperbole and tit-for-tat displays of adolescence instead of serious leaders with serious visions. We have it within our power to change that, but if we’re content with relinquishing our country’s future to the whims of one man’s id, let’s by all means continue down this road.