From the heat of flames and twisted metal, an America rose from the ashes of 9/11; an America that was strongly united in spirit if not in direction. “Never Forget” signs were everywhere. Even at 11 years old, I knew I would never forget. I will remember the brave men, women, and rescue dogs as they risked their lives to save people inside the burning buildings, and then later those trapped beneath the rubble.
Most people, regardless of political affiliation, rallied behind America’s leaders after 9/11 with the hope and trust that the right decisions would be made to make the United States safe. However, years of prolonged warfare at the cost of thousands of American lives seems to have contributed to wearing away public trust in both parties. Americans were told there were weapons of mass destruction when there weren’t. It was heavily implied that Saddam Hussein in Iraq had much to do with the 9/11 attacks, and he didn’t. Islamic faith was thought to be the main reasoning behind the attacks, and it wasn’t.
I believe misinformation intensified as media sources became more fiscally competitive, concentrating on viewership ratings instead of focusing on legitimate journalism. Democracy is only successful with an engaged and well-informed public. How can we have either when people become disillusioned and apathetic? With misinformation, America became more polarized. The “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality appears to have gripped many of the voting public.
It’s difficult to engage people in a political process when it’s so easy to be turned off by the partisanship, wasting of time and money, the scandals. And rightly so. Who wants to participate in the politics of rage that we have today? We cripple ourselves when we refuse to engage with half the population. Who gains from our partisan divide? America certainly does not.
We can learn from the aftermath of 9/11 and other unifying events to work with one another. We can come together as a nation by focusing on our accomplishments, not just our sorrows. America brought humanity to the moon. We must never forget the feeling of achievement as a whole nation, not just half.
America isn’t “winning” just because we’re told so. We’re winning when average Americans are engaged and can thoughtfully and productively debate whether or how to implement policies. America is winning when we’re told by those who come after us that we did right, that we did good; that we did well.
We are in this great American experiment together; not rural versus urban, red versus blue, liberal versus conservative. If we aren’t together in action, then America has failed. There aren’t just two sides to every story. For every story there are hundreds of perspective and thousands of feelings.
“United We Stand” isn’t just for Republicans, “One nation, indivisible” isn’t just for Democrats, and “Under God” isn’t for any single religion. “E Pluribus Unum” is for all Americans. We are all the heart and soul of this nation. A nation divided in philosophy is full of learning and discourse and debate. But a nation divided in soul is a nation lost.
The actions citizens make, good or bad, are indications of America’s health. Lately, it appears we as a nation have been drifting apart. Our individual echo chambers are magnified by distrust, blatant misinformation, and the tendency to speak to fewer people outside our selective social circles. America is us. What we are is a result of listening to those before us. Who our children are, and what they become, will be a result of what we teach them.
I will never forget on 9/11, nor the other 364 days of the year, that we are a nation comprised of societies; the conglomeration of communities that are made up of families. We are a part of a whole United States, no matter if we’re from Spring Valley, Minn., or Houston, Tex. Be we of Hmong, English, Irish, Somalian, German, Scandinavian, Latin American, or Martian descent, if we live here, work here, pay taxes here, and contribute our time and energy to America, we are American from sea to shining sea. We are one America.