Our President asks us to remember those dear dead days after 9/11:
We were united, and the outpouring of generosity and compassion reminded us that in times of challenge, we Americans move forward together, as one people.This is dangerous nonsense. I lived in NYC before, during and after 9/11, and I can definitively state that "we" were not united. I rode the 9 train downtown a week after the attacks; there was palpable fear and suspicion of any remotely "Islamic"-looking person who boarded, from Sikhs to Peruvians. I ate in normally crowded Middle Eastern restaurants on Atlantic Avenue, which were empty despite the windows full of American flags. I heard elaborate conspiracies about the Jews (they all called in sick that day! they were dancing and cheering as the towers fell!), and I heard racial epithets hurled at Pakistani families in Jersey City.
Soon after the attacks, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed feminists, fags and the ACLU. Orrin Hatch and Dana Rohrabacher blamed Clinton. So did Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich. John Leo called the NYC firefighters' response to 9/11 "a display of heroism by multiculturalism's villain class, white males," without pausing to wonder why most of the firefighters in a hugely diverse city were white.
When Bill Maher pointed out that "lobbing cruise missiles from two thousand miles away" was not necessarily brave, Ari Fleischer famously responded that "Americans...need to watch what they say, watch what they do." In some towns, people who didn't look like "us" paid for their effrontery with beatings, or with their lives.
Things were typical, in other words: A bunch of scared, angry people spouting ignorant opinions, stifling dissent, bellowing threats and beating up on darkies. America: Open for Business!
The small grain of truth in Obama's claim is that many people who had intelligent things to say about the reasons for the attack, or legitimate concerns about our response, felt compelled to keep their mouths shut. This was a matter of decorum and patriotism, to an extent, but some people also felt intimidated by an officially recognized outburst of "national unity," the main purpose of which was to steel people for the hard work of stamping out difference and dissent.
As usual, "we" were united only inasmuch as we hated "them." And an awful lot of Americans were "them" after 9/11. To the extent that we're less united now than we were then, it's largely because the post-9/11 media and blogosphere worked overtime to mainstream racism, xenophobia and violent political rhetoric, and did so precisely in the name of "unity."
The President himself is the natural heir to a lot of this abuse, so it's not exactly edifying to see him paying pious lip service to the abstractions and lies that inform the current attacks on him. The fact is, much of the national unity after 9/11 was national unity against people like Obama: people who look different, and have funny names, dubious worldviews and questionable allegiances. That's why the right views it as a Golden Age.
I'm not sure what's worse: the idea that he doesn't realize this, or the idea that he does.