07 September 2021 | Twenty Years On

Twenty Years On

Twenty years. Two decades since an awful morning in September when 3,000 people were killed in unheard-of attacks that shifted history. Two decades, two invasions, and in the end, two Americas.

Osama bin Laden wound up getting all that he wanted.

How could this man think that he could start something that could destroy America? What might possibly make him think that 21 hijackers could really bring about an end to the most powerful nation in world history? Oh, except he knew well enough: in his own words, all he had to do was have someone raise a cloth of Al Qaeda and we’d go chasing that person down the rabbit hole at great cost to ourselves.

But it’s not war strategies and invasions I really want to speak of. It’s the successful division that has created two Americas. Bin Laden didn’t even invent that phrase; that honor goes to disgraced politician John Edwards. But the infamous jihadi would have no problem delighting in how in two decades, the United States has gone to war with itself, resulting in a nation as divided as ever since the advent of the Civil War. Americans have always quarreled amongst themselves, but this stark cleft is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the last 30 years. Americans actively and passionately hate one another, so much so that “red state” and “blue state” might as well read “Confederate” and “Union.”

Oh yes, it’s possible that had 9/11 never happened, we could still have wound up at this point. An epoch where 75 million people voted for the most incompetent president in American history for re-election, clearly desiring four more years of his criminal stupidity and abuse of power. An age of explosive disinformation and manipulation, and the literal erosion of democratic norms and institutions, pursued by politicians with a zealotry that Bin Laden would have approved of. In the end, it seems, he didn’t really need hijackers to fly planes into buildings: he merely could have enlisted the help of a political party to push election lies, voter suppression laws and bring white nationalism into the mainstream to the effect of weakening the United States. Using Bin Laden’s own words, all these individuals do is raise the cloth of “socialism” or “freedom” to cause our society to “suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits to their private companies.” Change that last part to “their re-election” and you have as damning a portrait of America as anything. Prophecy fulfilled.

Bin Laden seems to have known what he was talking about. But he and his ilk won’t destroy the United States: we will.