Last week marked the nineteenth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. That day, four planes were brought down in an act of terrorism and nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives. Most people who were alive that day are likely to remember where they were when the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City. If you remember that, you will also likely remember the unity that followed.
Shortly after the towers fell, the nation came together and showed what it meant to be an American. People purchased and flew flags and promised that they would stand together to deal with this newly emerging outside threat. People gathered around the country holding candlelight vigils and observing moments of silence while many flocked to the New York City to find ways to help.
The day after the tragedy, then President George W. Bush declared that “America is united,” and by all accounts we were. In fact, Bush’s approval rating at that time hovered just below 90 percent—a number that seems almost unheard of in this present-day political environment.
According to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, one in five Americans cite the country’s response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as the time in their lives when they felt most proud of their country.
Fast forward to Sept. 11, 2020. The landscape looks a lot different. Instead of fighting a foreign enemy we are battling one we cannot see: coronavirus. And, instead of uniting we are more divided than ever.
So far 2020 has brought extreme shifts in an already politically charged environment. A record number of people are unemployed, the divide between rich and poor is larger than ever and science has taken a back seat to conspiracy theories. Instead of figuring out a collective way forward, our national leadership has chosen to stoke conspiracy theories.
Mask wearing, which could have been portrayed as a symbol of national unity, was instead weaponized. Science be damned, people took sides on the mask issue—largely along political lines— when really the only side was the one where fighting the virus is in everyone’s best interest.
Leadership starts at the top so take a long look at your local, state and national leaders and demand better if they are not doing their job to unite us. Check in on your neighbor and ask what you can do to help make your community a better, more united place.
On Sept. 12, 2001, we were united. We can be that way again.