Osama Bin Laden gambled that Americans would overreact, be driven crazy by the attack. He was right.
As a direct result America began a 20-year occupation of Afghanistan that cost over $2 trillion. As a direct result we invaded and overran Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attack.
Even after most Americans recognized the overreaction, electing Barack Obama in 2008, half the country remained consumed by fear. It was easy for the resource billionaires funding the Republican Party to transfer that hate onto Obama, then onto his party, then onto its individual members, just as 60 years earlier fear of Communism morphed into McCarthyism.
Thus came Trump. Thus came Trumpism.
Thanks to Trumpism’s excesses, almost half of us remain so tied to hate that we’d rather than die than take a vaccine. Most Americans, even most Texans, are against snitching on neighbors who miscarry. Most of us even believe in democracy. But enough of us stand against progress, and enough of those people are powerful, that as I write this the future of the American experiment remains uncertain.
Thanks to 9/11 and thanks to Trump, America no longer has any moral authority. China can get away with Xinjiang, and with seizing Hong Kong, because we look no better to the rest of the world.
Thanks to Trumpism, authoritarians are on the march and democracy is in retreat around the world. Putin can interfere in our elections, can use trolls to spin lies that tear at the heart of our system and prosperity. But we do nothing in response. Dictators simply close off the Internet from the outside, impose their own censorship on their people, and force feed propaganda to them. There’s an economic cost to all this. America’s technology dominates the world to an even greater degree in 2021 than in 2001. But that doesn’t matter.
9/11 reset America, into a darker emotional age. It reset a generation into a spiral of hatred and fear, from which most will never escape. It created huge holes in our psyche we have yet to climb out of.
Osama is dead, GM is alive, but America is weaker, and humanity may not survive the century. All because of what happened on a sunny morning 20 years ago.