Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Most Americans can place exactly where they were when every news station tuned in to watch the first tower collapse, then the second.
Most Americans remember how vulnerable they felt in the aftermath — suddenly what was once certain could never be again, like nowhere was safe.
Out of the ashes of the attacks something rare emerged, bipartisan unity. Senator Hillary Clinton of New York said that it was important to be “united behind our president and our government, sending a very clear message that this is something that transcends any political consideration or partisanship.”
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert assured the public that “we are in complete agreement that we will work together, that we want to share information, that we will be ready to move on whatever the president suggests, and we will go through the debate and the actions of Congress in a bipartisan way to make that happen.”
Then the work began. With only one vote shy of a unanimous vote, Congress passed the Patriot Act in 2001, giving law enforcement more leeway when conducting searches without a warrant, monitor financial transactions, and eavesdrop, detain, and deport individuals suspected of terrorism, all in secret. In 2002, the Department of Homeland Security Act was passed, combining 22 agencies and 177,000 employees to form the Cabinet-Level Department of Homeland Security, complete with the new cabinet head position, Secretary of Homeland Security. It was the largest government reorganization in fifty years.
When Bush announced it was time for us to go into Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans of all parties were excited that justice was being served. Then in 2004, a Bipartisan committee issued the 9/11 Commission, detailing their investigation into 9/11 and its aftermath. While highly critical of numerous government agencies, including the CIA, it demonstrated how members of both leading parties could work together.
Fast forward to 2016, and bipartisanship seems like a thing of the past. Hillary Clinton, no longer a Senator, said that she is proud of the fact that she has made Republicans her “enemies.”
Donald Trump has bashed the Democratic party as well, accusing members of various offenses, including the initial claims that Vladimir Putin was behind the hacking of the DNC, which he called outrageous.
Congress hasn’t looked too hot either. After a sling of mass shootings this year, Republicans failed to pass four measures that would curb gun sales.
Then as Zika begins to rear its head in Florida and Puerto Rico, posing a great threat to Gulf States, Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on a way to fund the National Institute of Health so that they can do their job and develop vaccines and monitor the infected.
In fact, anyone that has been following politics this year may have had a couple of face-palming moments. It seems no matter how grave or important the situation seems, Democrats and Republicans have lost the ability to speak the same language. Donald Trump has spoken about building a wall at the Mexican-American border, but it sure feels like there’s already one that is unsurpassable in our government.
Now it’s the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11. While this year has seemed to be an endless cycle of frustration, there is actually a bill that managed to garner Bipartisan support and is heading to Obama’s desk, one that would allow families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for their alleged involvement. While Obama is set up to veto it, the bill has broad enough support to override it.
It seems like 9/11 is uniting our country once again, if only for a bit. It’s one of the few uniquely American experiences, where every heart was heavy and lifted in prayer. We weren’t just united by a common culture, but a common emotion. There was a sense that by hurting some of us, all of us had been wounded deeply. That sentiment was felt by everyone, from the suburban family to the Washington Senator, and as a result everyone worked together regardless of ideology or political preference.
Times may seem vastly different, but at the end of the day, we are all still Americans. This time of year, all of our hearts grow heavy again, and we remember how vulnerable everyone was when the twin towers collapsed and there was nothing to be done. Even in 2016, a year of so much division, the horrors of 9/11 still hold over every heart, no matter who that heart plans on voting for in the Fall.
Remembering 9/11 should not just be about the brave men and women, but it should be a lesson in togetherness and love, in helping out your neighbor when you see they are down no matter your beliefs or political alliance.
As we remember the tragedy that occurred fifteen years ago today, let us also strive for understanding, for love, and most of all for unity ins spite of all of the chaos that tries to tear us all apart. We are strong when we are together.