September 11 and the
Return of Reality
by Andrew E.
The initial reaction of many Americans to the terrorist attack of
September 11 was one of disbelief. In too many ways, the film
footage of destruction seemed surreal, like an action movie
utilizing state-of-the-art special effects.
Ironically, now that five weeks have passed, it is possible to
say that the events of that terrible day actually represented a
heavy dose of reality that has shaken American politics—and, indeed,
American life—in a number of ways. In particular, three elements of
reality were brightly illuminated amid the ash and smoke.
First, evil does exist in the world. Radical relativism can offer
no insight into our current crisis; postmodernism has run smack dab
into original sin, and original sin has won.
Second, mortality cannot be evaded. During the Cold War, the
stench of mortality hung in the air, sometimes lightly and sometimes
with overpowering malodorousness, but never entirely absent. In the
1990s, Americans grew to enjoy a more carefree existence. No one
doubted that death would come to us all, but few felt it necessary
to live every day as if it might be their last. Death has now
returned in all its rigor, not as a benign end to a comfortable
life, but as most of the human race has known it for most of
history, a force of violence and caprice. The smiley face is out;
Heironymous Bosch is back.
Third, the safety of our country cannot be taken for granted.
Unmentioned behind the widely repeated declarations that Americans
had "lost their innocence" lay the fact that, for much of American
history, our safety has not been assured. From the occupation of New
York during the revolution to the burning of the White House and the
Capitol building in the War of 1812 to Pearl Harbor, America has
been under periodical attack. From the 1960s to the end of the Cold
War, avowed enemies of the United States aimed enough nuclear
missiles at us to obliterate our nation within 30 minutes of any
decision to do so. In this sense as well, the 1990s were not normal;
they were a blessed interlude from what is normal. On September 11,
we were reminded that our country has enemies, that our national
security must be earned anew by every generation.
The consequences of these three realizations are far-reaching.
Americans have reevaluated what is truly important in life.
Religion, patriotism, and family have each been embraced more
thoroughly than before. More directly political consequences have
been felt as well. Take, for example, the following issues:
Gun control. After September 11, it is difficult to make
the argument that society is safer as long as law-abiding citizens
are disarmed. To the contrary, it is not hard to perceive that the
airliners that were turned into guided missiles were vulnerable
precisely because the hijackers, though vastly outnumbered, were the
only armed people on the planes. The subsequent demand by the
airline pilots association to be allowed to carry firearms is a
recognition of that fact. The gun control debate will never quite be
the same, in the air or on the ground.
Immigration. Talk of a blanket amnesty for illegal aliens
in the United States is now dead. Instead, Congress is likely to
tighten immigration controls, making it harder for foreign nationals
to get into the U.S. and easier to deport them when they come under
Affirmative action. The Bush administration, which last
summer announced it would argue for continuation of racial
set-asides in government construction contracts, has now dropped
Justice Department support for a lawsuit alleging that a big-city
fire department was biased against women because its entry test
required a standard of physical strength most female applications
could not meet. While a few hard-core feminists attacked the
decision, every other American who works or lives above the second
floor instantly understood the stakes.
"Racial profiling." Amazingly, a recent poll showed that
nearly three-fourths of black Americans now support racial profiling
in law enforcement—for Middle Easterners. In other words, if a
particular type of criminal activity is conducted disproportionately
by a particular type of person, extra scrutiny of persons who fit
the description might reflect prudence rather than racism. This
debate, too, has fundamentally changed.
In each case, before September 11, wishful thinking, political
correctness, and utopian leftist ideological assertions—safety
requires the disarmament of citizens, profiling and immigration
restrictions are always racist and never justified, workforce
"diversity" should always trump standards—dominated the discussion.
Since September 11, those assertions have withered. Ideological
obsessions have taken a back seat to the dictates of reality. Death
is back among us, wielded by an implacable and vicious enemy that
has proven it can strike us in our homes. Seriousness has,
predictably, followed in its train.
Andrew E. Busch is an Adjunct Fellow of the John M. Ashbrook
Center for Public Affairs and an Associate Professor of Political
Science at the University of Denver, where he specializes in
American government and politics. Dr. Busch is the author of
Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Freedom. He is also the
co-author of The Perfect
Tie: The True Story of the 2000 Presidential Election.