Two facts for context: I’ve long been a big fan of David Wilcox, and September 11, 2001, affected me hugely for a variety of reasons that I won’t dig through my archives to evidence, just now. These two facts came together some time in 2003 when my wife and I left our one-year-old daughter (who started high school this month) with my in-laws and went to see Wilcox at the Narrows in Fall River.
Having not had the time or resources for many such small-venue concerts, my silly fandom tripped up my tongue all the more when I discovered the artist standing by the front door, greeting people and selling his CDs. Being broke, I didn’t yet have his then-new album Into the Mystery, and was disconcerted to find I couldn’t scrape together enough money from the car-seat cushions to buy an autographed copy. In sympathy, Wilcox pulled out of his backpack a CD that was fine but for a broken case and gave it to me for what I had.
Two things struck me about the music that evening and on his album. The first was the newly overt Christianity of the lyrics, which meant a great deal to me as a recent convert. The second was the lyrics to “City of Dreams,” about 9/11 and its aftermath. As a conservative, one expects mainstream and folk musicians to hold views that differ from one’s own, and the words about unity in his song were all the more powerful because they bridged truly to my sense of an unexpected connection with the artist.
We are children of slavery
Children of immigrants
Remnants of tribes and their tired refugees
As the walls tumble down
We are stronger together
Stronger than we ever knew we could be
As strong as that statue that stands for the promise
Of liberty here in this city of dreams
As I contemplated, this morning, what I might write today, fifteen years on from the attack, the only theme that would come to mind is that we’ve squandered all that unity. To be sure, I’m applying some gloss to the past, here. My first-ever Providence Journal op-ed was titled (by me) “Who Are These People?,” and in November 2001, it detailed various points of view that were difficult to comprehend at that moment in American history. The unity was not, by any means, complete.
By way of a quick articulation of my interpretation: The strong emotions (rightly) evoked by the attack made it impossible for all but the most extreme or careless to express their views against the broadly shared culture of the United States. Over the remainder of President Bush’s time in office, the Left (including the news media) sought justifications for renewing their contempt to the point that no attacks on the moderate (too liberal for my tastes) George W. Bush were treated as beyond the pale. When it become plausible that a far-left (black) community organizer might be able to win the presidency, that ardency flipped from attack and jeremiad to hagiography, and any criticism of him became “racism” and any political resistance became justification for his trampling the Constitution and writing the legislature out of government, while setting his bureaucracies to cover up his inadequacies and block the organizing of his opponents.
Being a man of small character manifestly unsuited to and unqualified for his office at any time, but particularly at this time, Obama, with his Democrat and progressive enablers, proceeded to tear the country apart. In the interest of time, I won’t detail the foreign and domestic policy evidence, much less the rhetorical and optical justification that Obama has provided for this view, but as a final indicator, take the farcical nature of the 2016 election, during which clear-headed supporters of both parties should be hoping for the author of history to come up with some implausible plot twist that reshuffles the deck within the next couple of months.
I take this to be an incontrovertible articulation of recent history. Others will take it to be incontrovertible that my summary is a bunch of overwrought nonsense. And there is no middle ground. We’ve been left with no middle ground. Even there, I see the smoldering bridge to be clearly the fault of progressives who’ve marched without respect for their neighbors’ rights, views, ideas, or feelings. Progressives, no doubt, see it as the failure of their opponents to admit that they (progressives) have been proven correct and are “on the right side of history.” Again, not only isn’t there unity, but the lines along which we differ appear not to provide room for it.
So, where does that leave us? Weary, for one thing; how I long to return to the emphasis on artistry and beauty from which 9/11/01 tore me. And tremulous, for another, because I fear that, in our bickering, we’re ill prepared for the planes causing that low rumble in our culture as they glide toward the economic and geopolitical structures that unify us in the fundamental way that a well once unified a village.