COLUMN: Ten years, worse for wear

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune

Ten years, worse for wear
By Aaron J. Brown

Ten years ago this morning the thing on my mind as I walked to work was a photograph I’d just seen of me hosting a country music show at the Hibbing Community College theater that previous weekend. I was wearing a robin’s egg blue polyester western shirt like Glen Campbell would have worn in his prime. I was also thinking about our puppy kindergarten class that evening. Our new puppy Molly badly needed some guidance.

On 9/11 I was the inexperienced editor of an afternoon daily newspaper on the Iron Range. We still had a composition department, guys who cut with scissors and pasted with adhesive. There is a difference.

It would be a busy day. Two planes hit the World Trade Center a few minutes before our deadline. Another hit the Pentagon. Another went down in a Pennsylvania field. About 3,000 people died. We put out a special edition. It was all so confusing then and I can’t really say that time has helped.

That is true of many things these ten years. I was on desk when we invaded Afghanistan. Then we invaded Iraq. Each felt like pain medicine, temporary relief to larger, unresolved problems. And now the wars are still here, no relief in sight.

This year American forces killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11. While the emotions that followed sometimes ran dangerously hot, the sense of justice was palpable. That was last May, ancient history in the modern news cycle. Like all major news of the last decade – Afghanistan, Iraq, Election 2004, Hurricane Katrina, Election 2008, health care reform, the gulf oil spill, a Congress sent erratically in different directions – all it takes is a month or two and most have forgotten. Only those actually affected ever remember: the soldiers, the sick, the displaced, the poor, the forgotten. Their numbers are small but growing, one day to become a discontented majority. Those in power should fear this day but they arrogantly believe they can control us.

It’s long been said that topics to avoid around the dinner table include politics and religion. It now seems these topics are no longer avoidable, nor are they navigable.

How many family arguments have flared up these last ten years over politics, more virulent than before? People are having a more difficult time keeping friends of the opposite political persuasion. Facebook, Twitter and caustic political commentary sort us into camps that feed our hungry political id. Now there are studies showing that people are using political opinions as a primary indicator of romantic relationship success.

Don’t tell my great-grandmother, the staunch Pennsylvania Republican, that she erred in marrying my blue-collar Democratic great-grandfather. None of us would be here.

We’ve had two presidents these ten years. President Bush, despised by the left, created political conditions so unstable he allowed a political unknown to rise from nowhere to succeed him. President Obama, despised by the right, has struggled to apply textbook political theory to the mass media times of today. His strange name and background stokes so many emotions. The situation seems bigger than the president and none of the people running for his job seem any more capable.

Bush tried and Obama is trying to accomplish goals central to their different visions. Friendly congresses gave them the spending they asked for and none of the ways to pay for it. So here we are, living life on a credit card. Do not judge the politicians. So many of us, too, live this way. Our economy depends upon recklessness. All of us provide a steady supply.

It can thus be concluded that it is not our presidents that cause our woes, or even our feckless, indifferent Congress. Deep in the heart of this nation rests a hollow, empty feeling exposed by 9/11. It is the weight of age on a young nation that is no longer young. It is the resistance to sacrifice and thinking by generations raised to believe such things were no longer necessary. We had a great moment of unity. And we blew it.

To our credit, we are still here. In our hearts remain the capacity for love, forgiveness, charity and hope. We are strong enough to work and smart enough to plan. These elements will triumph if we let them. We must find a way to learn from this decade of 9/11. We must no longer deal in the shorthand of human experiences. We must confront reality, not reality television.

Aaron J. Brown is an instructor at Hibbing Community College. He is author of the blog and the book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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