We’re Not Getting Our 9/12 Moment

But, 2001, at that point, didn’t feel like much else than the twelfth year of the 1990s.

Until September 11.

Our 9/12 Moment — In 2001

On that bright, late summer Tuesday, chaos erupted. Suddenly, we were thrust into a new era. Our obsessions with chads and politician infidelities and the 90s ended on 9/11 as sure as that summer ended in early September.

9/12 was our generational moment. Our country experienced a sense of unity that we hadn’t experienced since Pearl Harbor, almost 60 years earlier.

Photo by History in HD on Unsplash
Photo by Andrew Ruiz on Unsplash

When That 9/12 Moment Faded

Polarization crept back into our national psyche, eventually. A long war on terror, the tea party movement, President Trump’s surprise win in 2016, his impeachment earlier this year — these and countless other 21st-century moments divided us, while they also united us within our political bubbles, all the while reinforced and fed by the individualized news streams now available to us at all hours, wherever we are.

Even before the coronavirus crisis came to a head this year, the extent of polarization in the US was striking.

Somehow, we got back to here, worse off than we’ve ever been. All that pent-up resistance to Trump’s policies yielded, at one time, 24 candidates who were vying for the 2020 Democratic ticket. Four years earlier, a similar, but opposing resistance to Obama’s presidency encouraged as many as 22 Republican candidates to vie for the nomination to that ticket.

Photo by Vera Arsic on Pexels

When The ‘Teens Ended

By the end of December 2019, the first reports were emerging from China of cases of pneumonia. Days later, alarm spread as a seafood market in Wuhan was closed and suspicions of a novel coronavirus emerged.

Photo by Zhipeng Ya on Unsplash

Today, we have more than 600,000 cases of coronavirus in the US, about 30% of the world’s total.

What went wrong?

We Got Here Because We’re Polarized

How we got here depends on who you ask, or who you watch.

For some of us, it’s really hard to see the other side. How can we be watching the same crisis unfold and come to such radically different conclusions?

Enter political parties.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
  • Republicans think more highly of the President. Their approval ratings have increased: from 80.4% on February 16 to 86.1% on April 14.
  • Democrats think less of the President. Their approval ratings have gone down: from 27.1% to 17.8% in the same period.
  • Independent voter opinions haven't really changed, moving from 41.4% to 43.3%, from February 16 to April 14.

We’re all living the same crisis, watching the same press conferences. So, why do Democrats and Republicans see the world through such different lenses?

Why are we living in different realities?

Inhabiting Very Different Realities for a Really Long Time

In 2014, as the US faced the Ebola threat, a CBS News survey found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of Republicans disapproved of President Obama’s handling of the crisis while 71% of Democrats approved.

…Divided We Fall?

It’s clear we’re divided as a country, and we have been divided for years, if not decades. That gulf is growing larger. Much of this can be traced to the 24-news cycle and the need to fill that space with content that keeps viewers tuned in.

We’ve seen how politicians can win by excluding one set of Americans while exciting the votes of another.

We’re Not a Coronavirus Success Story

Our polarization is to blame for where we find ourselves today. Tens of thousands of Americans will likely die from COVID-19. On April 9, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci estimated that the country’s eventual death toll will approximate some 60,000 lives. That’s far less than the 100,000 to 200,000 deaths that were predicted just a couple of weeks earlier, but still more than the US military casualties of the Vietnam War, which took place over 14 years, not a few months.

We’re not one of the world’s success stories. We haven’t beaten back coronavirus.

While political polarization has slowed our ability as a country to adopt social distancing, to call this a crisis, to admit we lost the ability to contain community spread, and to even unite against this common enemy, the US has rocketed ahead of every other country on Earth in terms of COVID-19 deaths.

Coronavirus Doesn’t Care About Walls or How You Identify

Coronavirus infects with reckless abandon. It doesn’t stop to see who you are, how you identify, or which news media you read or watch. It has the opportunity to infect us all equally — and sees right beyond the polarization rampant in our society.

Coronavirus has failed to unite us. We’re not getting our 9/12 moment.

While one of our lasting images from 9/11 shows firefighters hoisting the US flag over the rubble of the Twin Towers, the images that will survive from the coronavirus crisis a generation later seem to be those of shoppers fighting over toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash

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Writer / Photographer / Linguist / MBA

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Ryan W Owen

Ryan W Owen

Writer / Photographer / Linguist / MBA