It has been said many times that the tragic events of 9/11 provided the United States with a tremendous test, and much has been written about whether and how we have passed that examination. While in many ways we deserve credit for having accomplished an enormous amount under incredibly difficult circumstances (specifically in the military realm), in a couple of ways we have failed to rise to the challenges that the attacks presented.
Before 9/11, I was despondent about the state of our country. The Clinton impeachment saga (Clinton should have been removed from office) and the Florida recount (Gore and the media should have been repudiated for trying to steal the election) had left me wondering whether Americans were still capable of meeting great challenges.
Even worse, I had the sense that, thanks to the advent of reality television and the end of serious journalism, we had become a frivolous, celebrity-obsessed nation no longer worthy of the remarkable inheritance that our forefathers had gifted to us through their incredible sacrifices.
I was pleasantly surprised when the country came together after 9/11, even though the sense of unity only lasted for a few weeks. I vividly remember commentators confidently stating at the time that the attacks had made America a more serious nation. There was even a theory that “irony was dead.” While no one would want to live in an America devoid of fun and humor, I too saw 9/11 as an opportunity to reverse our national spiral towards silliness.
I now long for the days prior to 9/11, because Americans are even more inane now than we were then. We are more celebrity obsessed, our news media has stopped even pretending to try to educate the masses and our people are less interested in and knowledgeable about current affairs than ever (hence the election and possible re-election of President Obama).
There may be no better proof of this than Tim Pawlenty’s appearance on Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” this week, where he joked that he considered “shooting sparks up his butt” to get attention in the all-too-entertainment-oriented presidential race he was forced to withdraw from despite being the most electable candidate in the field. Fittingly, few people paid attention to him saying this.
Or, consider that our schools systems have largely abdicated their responsibility to teach students about what happened on 9/11. My wife is a middle-school teacher who each year around 9/11 gives her sixth-graders a short quiz about what happened 10 years ago. The results have never been remotely good and, as you might expect, they get worse each year.
Today, if 10 percent of her students can tell her how many planes were hijacked or which cities were attacked, she is pleasantly surprised. Most of her students don’t even know why the school has a moment of silence every September 11th. Since 9/11 is not on the approved curriculum, she has no expectation that the results of her yearly quiz will do anything but get worse in the future.