I was not directly effected nor especially traumatized (no moreso, that is, than the vast majority of humans who were horrified by the suffering, death, and destruction) by the attacks of September 11. Far more traumatic, for me, was what took place in the weeks that followed, specifically the adoption of the Patriot Act, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the declaration of a “War on Terror”.
It’s not so much that I thought these were all bad ideas, although I did – it’s that it didn’t seem to matter, to anyone, whether they were bad ideas. There was this grinding inevitability to it, like “Of course we’re going to invade someone,” “Of course we’re going to massively expand the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” “Of course we’re going to make a big show of attacking ‘terrorists'”. The question of whether or not these measures were likely to be effective for their stated purpose, though raised, always seemed beside the point. They were simply going to happen. Congress, famously, enacted the Patriot Act without ever really giving its members a chance to read it.
It was obvious to me and I think many people at the time that, once adopted, these measures wouldn’t just go away. When would we ever be able to declare victory in a war on terror? When has the government ever said, “OK, the need for us to have that authority has passed, here are your rights back”?
Now, 15 years later, there seems little danger that the attacks of September 11 will be forgotten. What I fear is being forgotten is what America and the world looked like on September 10, 2001. Warrantless eavesdropping, the Transportation Security Administration, Guantanamo Bay, and American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have become the new normal, exactly as their critics predicted that they would. It feels like a “12 Monkeys” scenario, where we knew exactly what was going to happen but were powerless to stop it.
Even now, there’s no end in sight. With Obama has proving unable or unwilling, how can there be any hope that either of the current frontrunners for the presidency will step up where he did not? And after another eight years, well, the nail will really be in the coffin then.
All of that said, and as much as I deplore so much of what the Bush Administration did in the aftermath of September 11th, I did express some gratitude, yesterday, that at least Donald Trump wasn’t in charge. Here’s hoping we can steer clear of that catastrophe which, though far from inevitable, is still much too imminent for my comfort.