Meanwhile, the ugly emotions -- fear and hate -- are like weeds. Not only will they survive without interference, they will thrive and dominate. You might be surprised to hear that two months after 9/11, the percentage of Americans who had a favorable view of Muslim Americans had actually increased from before the attacks, from 45 percent to 59 percent, thanks in part to some words from President Bush, of all people. This dropped steadily to 35 percent in 2010 and 27 percent by 2014. Suspicion and distrust not only stick around just fine for 15 years, but grow big and strong with regular feedings.
Starved and neglected, the good impulses -- love, bravery, fellowship, compassion, sacrifice -- withered. The bad impulses ran wild. We watched patriotism corrupted into shallow jingoism, the desire for justice into bloodthirsty belligerence, and watchful vigilance mutated into hateful paranoia. Genuine stories of heroism were turned into propaganda. Real grief was used to push emotional buttons and manipulate voters into war and surrendering civil liberties. We became so familiar with the corrupted forms that we considered the purer originals merely phony euphemisms for them.
Those of us repelled by the self-serving distortion of the 9/11 memory gave in to cynicism and hopelessness. We remembered it as the moment that drove people to be trigger-happy for war, to trade freedom for a false promise of safety, and to treat millions of fellow citizens like secret terrorists. We forgot it had also moved us to make our own hopeful promises. We swore we were going to volunteer more, or change the way we treated people, or quit playing Counter-Strike all day and take concrete steps to pursue our dream of being a game dev or a writer or a television chef. I stuck to my guns and became Mario Batali, but how many of the rest of us followed through?
We remember how post-9/11 emotions made a lot of people shittier. We forgot how they had made us want to be good.
I know 9/11 wasn't necessarily a moment of clarity for everybody. But most of us have some moment, public or personal, which made everything dumb seem unimportant and everything worthy grow big. And most of us expected that moment to automatically change our lives, and didn't bother to make it change us. So we lost it as quickly as it came. That's why I latched onto "Never Forget." It's something you have to do deliberately, purposefully. It's not "Yeah, I'm sure I'll never forget."
I don't have that sticker anymore, or the car. My church did a thing a few years ago where they gave cars to people who needed them, so I donated it. Mine went to a single mom who lost her last car because her abusive ex smashed the door in. I don't remember if the sticker was still on the car when we gave it to her, but I think the thing that made me put the sticker on the car would have been happy.
Christina can be found on Twitter or Facebook.
Learn how effective terrorism actually is in The 6 Weirdest Things We've Learned Since 9/11, and get inside the mindset of a 9/11 conspiracy theorist in I Was A Professional 9/11 Truther (And I Gave It Up).
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