Twenty years later America teems with uncertaintyWednesday, September 15, 2021
AMERICA has just observed the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. This year it has once again come in the shadow of the still raging and dangerous novel coronavirus pandemic. But it has also been overshadowed by the reassertion of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a country that was attacked by the US in the aftermath to unseat and punish the organisers of the September 11 atrocity.
In its two-decade war in that country there is no real victory to celebrate. The cruel irony is that the Taliban regime that was overthrown has now returned, perhaps more emboldened and in a stronger position than it was twenty years ago.
There is great doubt that the reason for invading Afghanistan — to contain terrorism and protect the homeland — has truly been achieved. It is true that in the last 20 years the country has not suffered any external terrorist attack, but there has to be concern regarding what this portends for the future.
Grave threats remain. Osama Bin Laden was killed long after the Taliban regime was overthrown, but the outrage and anger that was sparked by America's occupation of both Afghanistan and, foolishly, later Iraq, persist. America's untidy and incompetent attempts at rewiring these countries into American outposts or, at least, grafting on to them a scion of Western liberal democracy has not only been a grand failure, but has also cost the country dearly in sweat, blood, and treasure. Importantly, this reckless adventure spawned terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and has placed the country's security in jeopardy.
Equally disconcerting and dangerous is the growth of domestic terror groups. While the George W Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and now Joe Biden administrations concentrated effort and treasure on fighting the elusive war on terror abroad, the country was seriously distracted from seeing the growing danger posed by largely white, racist, extremist groups in its midst.
The attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 sent the clearest signal of the true intent of these radicalised groups — the usurpation of power by a few to promote clearly authoritarian, autocratic and fascist ideas of governance. That they were able to succeed in attacking the Capitol, the bastion of democracy, and to rampage freely though the building, some defaecating as they went, for the better part of three hours, gives a clear signal of the threat that the Republic faces. And as President George W Bush said in a speech commemorating the 9/11 event last Saturday, there is no distinction between the foreign and the domestic terrorist. In a moment of rare oratory, he declared: “They are children of the same foul spirit.” Indeed.
The amazing thing is not just the radicalisation of these groups, but the increasing radical thinking of elements of Republican politics, which give more than a wink and a nod to the shenanigans of this group. Of immediate context is the attempt by the Republican minority in the Congress to prevent any inquiry into the assault on the Capitol building. The Minority Leader in the House Kevin McCarthy has poured scorn on such an idea and has stoutly resisted every attempt to get to the bottom of what happened.
When they want to promote the causes they believe in, Republicans in the Congress move with the dexterity of a snake catching a lizard, but when it comes to fundamental matters of protecting the country's democratic way of life, they bury their heads in the sand. Just imagine it, the first and greatest terrorist attack on the Capitol since the British burnt it in 1814 is met with reticence and a loud silence by one of the leading political constituencies in the country.
So America is reeling backwards, a lumbering giant caught up in the vortex of an identity crisis that many do not seem to understand or are prepared to spend the time to understand. The greatest index of this crisis is the deep divisions that plague the country. There are many characteristics of this division, but one does not have to look further than the novel coronavirus pandemic to see how palpable it is.
One of the things that tends to unify the people of any country, and America is no exception, is the response of the citizens when faced with a national tragedy. The country came together when the terrorists attacked on 9/11. They respond with national fervour to help others when natural tragedies strike.
Now the country is in the midst of a raging pandemic that has killed over 660,000 Americans and perhaps maimed many thousands more. People continue to die at a daily rate of 1,500. It has been clearly demonstrated that the vast majority of those dying are the unvaccinated, who have refused to get vaccinated or to even wear masks to prevent infection from this dangerous respiratory virus.
Another clear, empirical fact is that the virus is spreading and killing people in red states controlled by Republican governors. It is there that you find the greatest obstinacy to getting vaccinated and defiance to wearing masks. It is there that the hospitals are buckling under the weight of the ever-increasing number of people requiring care, many of these being children and young adults. It is there that the greatest number of people are dying from the virus. And, it is there, dare I say it at the risk of being called a racist, though the facts are unmistakably clear, that those who are being impacted in this way are predominantly white. This is a subcultural tragedy that merits its own analysis.
This is not to disparage any political constituency but to state the obvious, that politicisation of the novel coronavirus has had deadly consequences for too many. It is hard to wrap one's mind around this political defiance. As far as I know, and I stand to be corrected, America, with the possible exception of Brazil under Bolsonaro, is the only country with this clearly defined political defiance toward the vaccine. It reflects other divisions that have been smouldering for a long time, but for so many to not want to take a vaccine that could save their lives boggles the imagination.
In this polarised environment it is obvious that President Joe Biden is only talking to between 65 and 70 per cent of the country. Of course, he speaks to the entire country, but a good one-third is not listening to him. They have become politically tone-deaf, having sold their souls to the lie that he stole the election from Donald Trump. They will resist his federal mandate on vaccination, but he has to do what is necessary to keep the nation safe, even to save those whose obstinacy cannot allow them to appreciate their own health and that of their families, especially the children who cannot yet be vaccinated.
There is now a great deal of uncertainty in the country as to what the future holds, but America is a very malleable society and hope springs eternal in the breasts of those who dare to hope.
Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.