Today marks the twentieth anniversary of attacks on American soil on September 11th, 2001. It has been two decades since that fateful day, it is still a day for the victims’ families, first responders, and survivors that is very much fresh in their minds. Yet today, in 2021, there is now an entire generation and a half that have no living memory of the events in itself, or of the world before it. For some of you who may not haven’t even been born yet or have a living memory, to which I understand if this may stand out to you as strange as I talk about this. I use this event, in my own idiosyncratic way, as my method of determining who is a Millennial and who is Gen Z. It is probably my own sneaky way of avoiding the Gen Z label, (I was born in 95) but it is also because for me, that day is a flashbulb memory. I’m never going to forget it. So I thought in reflection of the two decades that have gone by, that we take a look at the United States and what has passed us by. I’ll be writing this more so from memories and experience, so I apologize if this comes off a little more autoethnographic or just a stream of consciousness I promise I am far more organized.
I ask you to understand as I proceed here, where exactly it is I’m coming from. For a young child whose father was in the military, to see his place of work on fire, wondering if he was even alive for a good chunk of the day, is something that sticks with you. It was the moment the bubble of childhood innocence popped. Something that my mother to this day, says “it showed many of us how evil truly exists in this world.” It was a moment that wherein the world would fundamentally change. Having the television on every night in the weeks that followed and clinging onto every word that the Commander in Chief had to say. Even to this day I still have a bittersweet nostalgia for George W. Bush, as I am sure many my age do, growing up with him and having some sense of faith in the aftermath that he was the right man for the job – even if the consequences of what came next prove the exact opposite. While I am certainly blessed that my father came home that day and the consequent deployments, for the families of nearly three thousand others that day, my experience is one I’m sure they would trade for in a heartbeat.
So today I thought it would be prudent to ask: What is America, on September 11th, 2021? Twenty years have passed and what has become of the nation? To some of you this is rhetorical as the answer is obvious (and I agree with you, to an extent,) but there is more that I wish to reflect and expand on. If you’ll permit me, dear reader, I’ll be using my experience during those two decades as this essay’s guide. As they were both my formative years, but also the years that shaped my political socialization and identity. So let’s begin, shall we?
As I’ve said on many a livestream and in videos, my father, whom I will not give too much away to reveal an identity; but whose three decade long career in the United States Army, looking back, provides an odd sort of personal history of American involvement in the Middle East. From his first outing in Desert Storm, to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and then the troop surges in Afghanistan under Obama’s tenure, all to end in a rather quiet retirement under the Trump administration. I cannot speak for him or his opinions of what has recently taken place, as throughout my life I have only heard the occasional bits and pieces of what he really feels, a common thing among soldiers, I am told. Just the other week based on what took place in Kabul, a place where he was stationed once, the only thing he told me was, “I’m really frustrated.” I do one day wish to know more, although I may never, so I must rely on what I can tell, which is my own perspective.
The world of the United States from 20 years ago feels both foreign, unobtainable, yet in the months and years that followed of W’s first term, eerily familiar. Debates in 2001 ranging from globalization, tax cuts, control of the senate, and stem cell/genetics research to advance medicine. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme (superficially most times.) Terrorism and Middle Eastern affairs weren’t a completely foreign ideal either, as the World Trade Center had been previously bombed, Bush Senior was in Kuwait dealing with Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and our relationship with the Saudis had grown closer over the decades.
What feels foreign, at least to many who were young or at least had an idea of what the world was beforehand, is trying to explain to others what the zeitgeist of the nation was to someone who wasn’t there for it. There is both a documented history with the early days of the internet and 24 hour news cycles, but also this spectral oral history from those much older and not much older than myself describing a world and youth before this monumental change. Sometimes I do feel like this meme is applicable, even if I think it is through rose tinted glasses.
Yet even talking about the world twenty, twenty-five, or even thirty years ago seems like I’m discussing a foreign nation. Which makes the question I asked at the beginning all the more loaded. The wars that began after the September 11th attacks, with most households having landlines and dial-up internet, to conclude in a time where 5G is being unveiled, and instantaneous access to the world is a technological marvel taken for granted to a point where the European Union has just about declared it a human right. The immediate sense of patriotism and unity between the various groups in the largest multiethnic “democracy” would soon dissipate by the second term of George W. Bush. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself? Despite the apparent stupidity as portrayed by the media, Will Ferrell, and the paper of record, it is important to remember that George W. Bush descends from one of the many aristocratic political dynasties in the United States, with an East Coast, Ivy League education. Much of his country-esque, Bushisms and accent so parodied by everything from stand up comics to Robot Chicken (remember that?) was a deliberate act for political purposes. Remember that as we discuss the changes that soon followed. One could argue by the building up of and consequent invasion of Iraq, that the sudden resurgence of patriotism had begun to disappear in Blue America, and the partisan politics of the United States had resumed once again. America was back to its normal state of affairs. After all, there was a mass encouragement to Americans immediately after the attacks to not let “them” stop you from living your life and enjoying your freedoms. Shop till you drop. “No terrorist is gonna ruin my vacation.” This isn’t to say however that people were entirely clueless was coming, whether it was Hunter S. Thompson or just some rando on the internet, the predictions made were prescient to say the least.
The acceptance of what came in the name of national security and freedoms still permeate in the culture within Red America. It is still somewhat alive, although it is being challenged by its pundit and voting classes. Growing up now overseas by the time the invasion of Iraq had started, the pride that came from kids my age when Saddam was captured and that Baghdad was being secured by American forces was something we mindlessly cheered on. After all, it was our parents’ job to fight and win, why shouldn’t we celebrate? That youthful naiveté would last a considerable length of time. I remember close to the 2004 election, an election I would watch with the same attention of detail that most zoomer election youtubers have, our school held a mock election for president. It went 70-30 for Bush to get a second term, which sounded about right for the military politically, back when it was “Army of One” and not “Diversity is our Strength.” The trust in the government, at least for Red America remained high even as there was opposition and justifiable concern from their Blue American counterparts. However the imagery, trauma, and desire to get up fight back as a country gave way for generational change to how the regime rules. I can recall in a surreal fashion in high school in 2011 when Osama Bin Laden had been reported to have been killed by Seal Team Six, just how many celebrated like we had won the World Cup.
The United States, or at the very least I should say its government, which has not been beholden to its citizenry for a considerable length of time, responded to the public’s fear by announcing that they were granting themselves unspeakable amounts of power. This power, which one could make a good case already existed within the USFG’s possession long before the Cold War, now made public under the guise of Homeland Security. As men enlisted looking for a fight and the culture took a faux shift rightward, very similar to its days back in the USSR. The other forever war known as the Culture War was alive and well, as The Dixie Chicks were famously boycotted and essentially booed into irrelevance for their public opposition to wars and to George W. Bush. Bush Bashing was popular before Obama, but at least W had the optics benefit of a decent approval rating pre-invasion. With the culture at least giving some wind beneath his wings, the behemoth of the Bush Administration would see the expansion of state security power to levels that to this day remain.
From the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the ever present fear of another attack (properly justified for the average citizen,) anthrax, airline safety, colored terror threat levels, to the USA PATRIOT Act, the Executive branch’s newfound powers in the name of homeland security quickly ossified in the following months, and as Senator James F. Brynes pointed out, “The nearest earthly approach to immortality is a bureau of the federal government.” The Anti-War Left, something which is all but gone in today’s political class, came out in full force at this time prior to the invasion of Iraq. Afghanistan was understandable, the policies in response were too far past the line, and the reasons to invade Iraq seemed dubious. Protests in almost every Western country, as it seemed that the American led coalition would be going after Saddam Hussein of Iraq under the guise of Weapons of Mass Destruction, a nation of David Frum’s “Axis of Evil.” Nevertheless, in the name of The Global War on Terror, arms proliferation, threats against the US and satellite territories from state or non-state actors wouldn’t be tolerated. Bush, being adamant about his position to go after those responsible and eliminate the likelihood of future attacks so as to ensure that America wasn’t going to into another Vietnam. Afghanistan was first for terrorism, but was going to make sure that a coalition was there for Iraq, establish some international force granting him more legitimacy in the eyes of the world and home. So once again, America went to war. The geopolitics of which I will return to in a future essay.
The attacks, the wars, and the politics in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001 would be the foundations of one’s political socializations that would come out of the post-9/11 era. Being raised in a military household of an enlisted man, with a red state family and a protestant upbringing you can see how one would adopt the neoconservative worldview that was the right wing orthodoxy of time. It would also shape political optics for some time as well, as almost no Democrat opposed the post-9/11 legislative measures that granted this sweeping power in the first place. Yet the left, the Great Recession of 2008 was many a wake up call or a catalyst to action and more a radical, progressive politics. To the right, the libertarian leanings would be the lasso that ropes you away from Bush and his ilk as you recognize the costs of war and the trampling of one’s civil liberties. The real redpill (color may vary depending upon your upbringing) was the Snowden documents leaked to the press, the understanding of the vast machine that now operates, and how the hope and change president had no problem using this power on his own citizens, allies, to his own political gain as well as for imperial power.
The left and the right wing acknowledge these things. The toe-the-party line GOP types, your Romneys, McConnells and McCains, have no problem preserving it in the name of national security as well as their ties to various contractors that they’ll sit on the boards of once they retire or are voted out of office. Others, whether populists, libertarians, or paleoconservatives, are more adamant that a lesson should be learned and dismantle what has been created, even if it will never happen or would be more than happy to continue to use it if ever in office. The left, its neoliberal wing shares a similar position to that of the party line right, with a stronger emphasis on the platitudes of human rights and diplomacy, although the last democratic administration showed no problem with being hawkish whilst negotiating. Its progressives are more willing, like their right leaning counterparts to advocate for lessons learned and actually embrace an alternative view, but are corralled by its party structure to vote for the same speaker time and time again thus ensuring no immediate change.
But for all this pontificating on politics, power, and laws, I should bring us back to the question, “What is America on September 11th, 2021?” Our culture isn’t the same. The rallying around the stars and stripes is all but gone across the country, to where the national flag is a partisan symbol. A culture that went in with Toby Keith singing “’Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way,” to “We must think about our obligations to the women and LGBTQIA+++xyz in Afghanistan, we cannot leave.” A war that started in a time where both mainstream parties of the United States publicly opposed gay marriage, and that school choice was considered “the biggest civil rights issue of our time,” by the right; to where now schools have students pledge blatantly anti-white curriculums, and the right wing is considered transphobic for being against hormone blockers for transgender children. America’s culture had drastically shifted to the left, allowing for the regime’s geopolitical interests to uniquely coincide with their own goals domestically.
America in 2021 is in the midst of the old mythos and civic identity, the one-story state becoming a two-story state. The black national anthem is played a sporting events, wherein players of various races will kneel during the official national anthem, two independence days and some kind of pride month at any given time of the year. The nation’s demographics further accelerating this change, where even the military, whose combat deaths are somewhere around 86% white, have endless diversity trainings with a pedagogical background that argues that being white is problematic at best, while something worthy of an ethical suicide at worst. America today would not rally behind any singular cause, leader, or identity if attacked today. If the towers fell today, if the pentagon was attacked today, if the brave souls of flight 93 gave their lives today, a similar politicization that we’ve seen with poor virology institute management would happen if the attacks occurred this morning. And before I hear the objection that America would be vastly different if 9/11 didn’t happen in 2001, how much would it be different? It took critical theory a few decades to conquer academia, and then only a few years at the most to conquer virtually everything else. That would still happen. Gay marriage would eventually be legalized. Racial divisions would be ongoing and “mostly peaceful” protests would still occur. The Saudi Connection would be tweeted about just as it is in our current timeline, the official narrative questioned and picked apart, but just like with our official narrative about combating certain respiratory viruses; it would not matter as the hammer comes down and the alternatives are censored, throttled, and shadowbanned. The nostalgia glasses need to come off for the liberals left, right, and center. The ugly heads of liberalism’s children would have been rearing up regardless, going back to a pre-9/11 world politically would just set back the clock before right before our current cultural disasters, and the timer would still tick on.
America has also seen a radical change, or perhaps has just become more aware of how powerless the average American is in the face of its political and decision making apparatus. Consent is clearly manufactured, whether for the Iraq War or that accountability is all but impossible save for the occasional patsy. Most people’s politics have changed, the reaction to the post-9/11 world was evident. Obama was a reaction to Bush, who just wielded power more effectively, and Trump was a reaction to them both along with the last forty years of destructive globalization and liberal hegemony. And much like Warren G. Harding, Biden was the Ancien Régime reaction of the working class revolt of 2016, but instead of “return to normalcy,” we instead got the malarkey that was “America is Back.” And in that change politically, has seen the emergence on the left and the right, is the acknowledgement that their democracy doesn’t function as intended. The right recognizes a spiritual malaise that has been handed down to them from this elite, and the left sees the materialistic concerns ranging from wealth to quality of life. Even I have seen a radical change in my politics over the last twenty years, from a George W. Bush admiring neoconservative, to an agnostic libertarian conservative who supported both Ron and Rand Paul, to now a reactionary coming back to Christianity.
Americans are seeing how they interact and fit in twenty years into the latest iteration of the regime. Curtis Yarvin of neoreactionary fame was recently on Tucker Carlson Today earlier this week, describing how the American Republic changes every 75 years or so, and is expecting the next change to happen sometime soon. That change to the Fifth American Republic had already happened in the months that followed Sept. 11th, 2001. More obfuscation of power behind unelected bureaucracies of the executive branch ranging from the National Security Council to the Department of Homeland Security, all the while the Legislative Branch has grown in power by using its power of the purse to help fulfill the interests of their campaign coffers and secure their own agendas at the same time with only token resistance from those who will shout before the abyss yelling, “stop!” We are living now in an era not of one man saying “give me the power to rule and change things,” but instead a vast coordinated effort of semi-public and semi-concealed figures in the press, civil service, academia, and grant funded NGOs working in a seemingly coincidental but coordinated manner to move things towards a particular direction. Instantaneous communication and control of that communication makes it easier to manufacture consent, censor and silence dissent, facilitate the direction of the overton window, as well as reach out within this vast cathedral to secure its interests and ensure that one half of the nation is ready to jump for joy when the other half is crushed by its power. Its radicals are encouraged as they are the big ask before the small step towards said ask by its public faces. With the power to change elections, scientific consensus, and definitions overnight. All the while the poor yell at their twitter feeds and TVs, the middle class are left trying to survive inflation and taxes while no one helps them aside from platitudes, and the wealthy not of the in-group can have a modicum of influence.
To look back, it is of tragic irony to have the start of this war be ignited by an attack, images of poor souls trapped in the Towers opting to fall to their deaths than to burn up or be crushed in the rubble, to see random Afghans fall from American planes as we depart the country in defeat from the very war we entered because of these attacks. America, as a nation, is not healthy, nor is its populace regardless of race. Often times I see people invoke the post-9/11 unity as some sort of white flag to call a truce to their political enemies and find a way to come together. Unfortunately, as long as our current governing ideology still exists, such unity will never come, just as world prior to the attacks will not return to us either. America on September 11th, 2021 is a husk of what it once was, whether it was its social mobility to quality of life. All the while the latest iteration of the regime established by this great national and global tragedy continues to use these newfound powers on the Global War on Terror into a domestic one.
To finish off, dear reader, today is a dark and somber day. I will probably sit outside, with one of my father’s various duty station mugs in hand, thinking about that day and how lucky I am that he survived this global war on terror. Thousands of servicemen and women didn’t, nor did hundreds of thousands of others around the world, with countless maimed or taking their own lives after coming home. America on this day is wounded, divided, and now reeling from the consequences at home of the powers that were created and given to the regime twenty years ago. Twenty years may not seem like a long time, but oh how the times have changed.