Snapshot of the moment: On the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001, days after the president announced vaccination mandates intended to stop the 9/11-every-two-days death toll caused by the COVID pandemic, a Washington, D.C., rally planned for next Saturday celebrating people who invaded the Capitol Building and tried to overturn a free and fair election may become the flashpoint for further political violence because an astounding number of Republicans have been brought to believe Democrats are running a cannibal pedophile ring with Hollywood “elites” as part of a larger plot to take over the world.
Twenty years ago this morning, as I stood before a bank of televisions and watched the Twin Towers swaying in their death throes, I had a vision of what was to come. It was ridiculously incomplete, to be sure — Nostradamus himself couldn’t have pulled “President Trump” out of his hat — but those events in combination with the people in power at that moment assured me we were headed for some very dark places.
Twenty years later, and all I can say is, “I had no idea it would be like this.” By “this,” I mean members of the very same Republican Party that pounced on 9/11 to wrap itself in the flag while attacking the Taliban and then Iraq has transmogrified into a pack of neo-Confederate would-be warriors, some of whom see the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan as a model for future endeavors. The GOP was bad enough back then — remember John Ashcroft shrouding the stone breasts of a statue so as not to be tempted, or something? — but this new breed is thoroughly around the bend.
You can’t blame it all on an economy that left them behind. A whole lot of these Republicans drive cars that cost more than your average three-bedroom house — see: the gun-toting McMansion couple who got famous on the right-wing circuit for menacing peaceful protesters with an AR-15. What most of these people share in common is a frenzied terror that being white in America might be becoming less of a power ticket than it used to be, and hating Muslims 20 years ago has metastasized into hating everyone and everything that might threaten their centuries-old supremacy. Even you. Especially you.
If that includes disrupting and destroying elections, so be it. David Frum, the George W. Bush speechwriter who helped that Republican president sell fear to a traumatized nation, made an observation once. “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically,” he predicted, “they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.”
It turns out Frum was only half right. They are rejecting democracy wholesale (see: Trump’s “Big Lie”), but in their tumbledown rush to please a failed real estate mogul, they are also abandoning the flaccid “strictures” of basic conservatism. Look no further than Texas and Florida, where right-wing governors are dropping the hammer on local governments and small business over COVID mask mandates.
I’m so old, I remember when local government and small business were the reasons conservatives claimed they existed in the first place. Now, they exist to please Trump, and have gone so far out into the ether that people like John McCain, Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney, John Boehner and God-help-us even George W. Bush are considered to be too squishy-lefty to be tolerated in proper Republican circles.
All that, and they have foot-soldiers now, shock troops dressed in their finest tac gear and armed to the last tooth. These brigands are insinuating themselves into the ranks of anti-mask and anti-vax fanaticism, to the point that any school board meeting on these topics is likely to descend into a parking lot brawl, with fathers screaming at school board members, “We will find you.”
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Flipping through the TV channels on Thursday night, I came across the first game of the NFL season. Someone was performing the national anthem, and I caught “…gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” The thought came of itself, immediate and unbidden — “Not in Afghanistan, not anymore” — and I fell down the stairwell of 20 years, again.
That’s been happening quite a bit lately, as this grim anniversary has lurked on the far side of news reports — try to contain your shock — about how our disastrous, useless, calamity war in that country came to a disastrous end. I mashed the buttons on the remote until some show about growing carrots came on, and I watched for a while in search of elusive calm; the very last thing I wanted to see was the God damned war machine flyover that has become a stinking staple of sporting events ever since the whole country went sideways into war, fear and failure.
Please clap, right? Twenty years, 20 miles of bad road, millions dead, damaged or displaced, trillions of dollars deftly handed to the fortunate few who sell the bullets and the bombs, criminal profiteers and their political enablers walking unencumbered in the daylight, hauling down small fortunes in speakers fees, and more again in fees for commentator gigs with the murderously complicit corporate “news” media….
All of it aftermath, the consequences of getting everything wrong since that day, and it has all only just begun, because a segment of the population spent 20 years bathing in far-right Republican Kool-aid — the best stuff for fundraising, don’tcha know — and came out of the tub orange with rage, oblivious to the absurdities and the brazen picking of their pockets. Every time I see a vehicle with a Trump sticker next to an American flag sticker next to a Confederate flag sticker, a tiny part of my prefrontal lobe turns into pus and leaks out of my ear.
When did it start? Trump? The Tea Party? Newt Gingrich? Ronald Reagan? Richard Nixon? Barry Goldwater? Ayn Rand? Henry Ford? Appomattox? Wounded Knee? Jamestown? Cristóbal Colón? From what bleak corner came the original sin that set us pinwheeling into this vortex of racism, greed, ignorance and violence?
Upon this anniversary, I offer a dollop of purest truth to that cohort: Osama bin Laden and his friends got more than everything they came for 20 years ago, and you are the proof.
To the rest, I humbly proffer a bit of wisdom from Helen Keller: “Rights are things which we get when we are strong enough to make our claim to them good.”
To properly consecrate this day, endeavor to be stronger than those who seek to shred your rights out of a misguided fear that they are losing theirs. Quite an enormous amount depends on it.