Eighteen years ago after terrorists attacked our homeland, there was an immediate uniting of Americans across the land. In Washington, partisanship disappeared as many members of Congress from both parties and the leadership of both houses gathered on the Capitol steps, observed a moment of silence and then spontaneously joined in singing “God Bless America.”
It was a poignant moment that summoned the best in our people, a part of the never-to-be-forgotten events of Sept. 11, 2001. On that day of infamy, jihadists slammed hijacked commercial jetliners into the the World Trade Center and the Pentagon while heroic passengers forced another aircraft to crash in a Pennsylvania field, sparing a probable attack on the Capitol itself.
Unity prevailed when President George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan in pursuit of the jihadist leader Osama bin Laden. Two years later when Bush invaded Iraq, there was broad support based on intelligence sources that dictator Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction. Failure to find such weapons and the terrible cost in lives and treasure during that war led to widespread disillusionment and strained the ties that bind to the breaking point for many Americans.
Yet despite all the negative forces at work, on last week's anniversary of those attacks, across the nation people came together to remember that day and honor the memory of the nearly 3,000 who died at the hands of the terrorists. In New York moments of silence were observed and the names of the victims were recited by family members as is the custom each year. At a Pentagon ceremony, President Donald Trump recalled how Americans responded to the attacks. “In that hour of darkness, we also came together with renewed purpose,” he said. “Our differences never looked so small, our common bonds never felt so strong.”
Here in Cobb, Smyrna officials gathered with representatives of the police and fire departments in a ceremony at the Twentieth Century Veterans Memorial. Looking back on the horror of the events 18 years ago, Smyrna Fire Chief Roy Acree chose to focus on something else, a common experience in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. “That was a sense of pride,” he said. “Pride in our nation. Pride in the fact that no matter what the issues of the day separated us, we were able to lay those aside instantly and become one people, become Americans.”
But today our political and cultural differences have never looked so large nor our unity so strained. Consider how far our country has moved away from unity since then-U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. He famously declared, “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.” In 2008 his election as the first African American president engendered hope of less division with more than three-quarters of the public believing he would be the instrument of unity. Unfortunately, the hopes were dashed, for six years later, a majority of people said Obama had done more to divide the country than bring it together, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Now the country is deeply split over Trump and his policies with many voters believing he has done more to divide than to unite. As a side note, in a poll late last year, 64% of voters said the news media have done more to divide the country, a telling point reflected in the daily barrages against the president.
Where does the country go from here? Only the elections next year can tell us that. With the future course of the nation at stake, we hope the good sense of the American people will prevail.