I am a New Yorker. I remember the morning – 10 years ago today – when a student interrupted my class to say “Mr. B, a plan just crashed into the twin towers.” Thinking it was another report of a small, personal aircraft of the type that frequently met with inelastic collisions thereupon, I paid it very little mind until the end of class, when I saw the images for the first time on CNN in the cafeteria area down the hall. The rest of the city’s history on that fateful day is writ large in an endless number of forums – from conspiracy theories to National Geographic specials to Wall Street Journal articles: armed aircraft flyovers, emergency revival of city armories previously decommissioned as centers of activity for mobilized National Guard units. The Kingsbridge Armory near my then residence was immediately hemmed in by a fleet of Hummers and other armed vehicles with whose names I am unfamiliar. M-16 carrying soldiers standing next to heavily armed police on each car of each train moving through the city. Checkpoints, the rise of the TSA, war, rhetoric, more war, more rhetoric, First Responders diseases, memorials, speeches, we will never forget.
Every year, the news cycle picks up this story again regarding whether or not we are “safer” than when we experienced national tragedy. As I wrote in a related column two years ago – for the Millenial generation, this is their day that will live in infamy. But “safety,” I believe, is a misnomer. Certainly – there is more surveillance: NYPD has embedded operatives in foreign countries. The CIA and FBI now communicate regularly. Full body x-ray scanners now dispassionately greet travelers wishing to fly our nation’s air-transport network. Scant yards from these, the busy worker bees of an agency whose performance statistics over the past 10 years, if the title “TSA” were exchanged for “Public School,” are in such dire straits that it would qualify for hostile takeover by the state. Or worse yet: closure and re-opening as a Charter School.
The Patriot Act has been renewed, allowing Federal Law enforcement to monitor domestic e-mail traffic, phone calls, and regular mail. No, the secrets of your nightly adventures are no longer safe. Immigration and Customs Enforcement responsibilities are being afforded, nay, mandated to states in the form of the Secure Communities Act. It is once again unsafe to be brown, for larger groups of people with greater levels of pigmentation to associate, to speak another language, to pray in any non-Christian religion, to vote, or to educate themselves. In short, participating in any activity that has enrichened our great nation’s art, literature, music, architecture, science, political landscape, or labor force once again puts everyone with a twinge of coloration at risk. In a country where minorities far outweigh non-minorities, that makes a large section of the population “unsafe.”
True enough, we have claimed Bin Laden’s death, Saddam Hussein’s demise, Kaddafy’s ouster, and the arming of Hong Kong. But all of this has come at the cost of entirely politically destabilizing one whole section of the planet, sending our national economy into an undeniable death spiral, fostering ever greater ill-will against the United States and attracting new recruits to the ranks of those that seek to do us harm. The costs have sewn the seeds of riotous discontent amongst the unemployed, under-employed, wage earners, and market investors whose portfolio contents have gone from bullish to giant-snail-swimming-through-molasses-ish, or, worse yet, entirely empty, directly threatening their continued well-being. Should the Congressional guardians of market driven solutions as the salve to all labor related iniquities manage to succeed in blockading a ready-made package of programs, incentives, eliminations of bureaucratic redundancy and legislation that would immediately and positively turn the tide of catastrophic insecurity, they risk revolution in a variety of forms: at the voting booth, in the media, negative responses from funders, disastrous consequences for noteables operating in the heady intoxicating rush of political theater.
However, and I am far from the first journalist to suggest this: a type of revolution entirely unsuspected might also occur. Tired of the seemingly intransigent, maleficent, anti-intellectual, and self-serving ideologues occupying seats of power in local, state, and Federal positions, the citizenry may awaken to the parts of the Constitution – that document which has been the subject of much recent discourse and seek to drive the representation from their very comfortable stations, and begin anew. If the potential passage of Health Care legislation resulted in vandalism of Congressional offices, what will potential impedance of a bill that could conceivably put 9, or 10, or 12 million of the 14 million long-term unemployed Americans cause? This is a crucial question; students that graduated from degree granting post-secondary programs at the end of the school year this year got sent out into a market where no positions were available for them. Veterans returning from overseas conflicts are also remaining unemployed. Mid-career professionals with all manner of skills find themselves without paychecks. Families are in financial ruin, monumental losses abound, hunger, homelessness and mental instability pervade, and they can easily lead to a point around which those frustrated and angry, on the brink, and with little or nothing left to lose might galvanize their movement.
I was in and around lower Manhattan today, passed through Grand Central last night, went across the river to New Jersey and came back, and everywhere I went, a conspicuous, alert, armed to the teeth force in both BDUs and midnight blue uniforms stood at the ready, and watching. And everywhere I went over the past 24 hours, what I felt was not necessarily security, safety, or a diminishment of the threat level. Traveling through the WTC transport hub, seeing finely suited and clear earpiece and ‘All Access’ pass wearing security professionals did not inspire confidence. What it did inspire was a sense that at any moment, at any conceivable time day or night, someone might say ‘boo!’ and that would set of a series of unfortunate events. In his speech to Congress this week, President Obama recited the quote: “Our problems are man-made. Therefore they can be solved by man.” There are unquestionably people whose sole desire is to push their agenda of America’s undoing. That has been proven in every conceivable way. In contrast, what is also clear is that the iron fist grasping a handful of sand will lose many more grains the tighter the grip. What we lose the tighter the security becomes in our lives is our individuality, our innovation, our freedom of thought. Are we safer now than we were 10 years ago? Perhaps. Perhaps not.