Beyond 9/11

At the blog of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, Ben Alpers responds to Rick Perlstein’s piece about America’s conflicted response to the September 11 attacks (“Solidarity Squandered”): “Perlstein’s portrait of the political aftermath of 9/11 is entirely on the mark. If much of the political business of 2008 involved undoing the damage of the Bush years—much of which was directly connected to the response to the 9/11 attacks—that business remains largely incomplete.

“And yet, I’m suspicious of his framing narrative. It seems to me that two kinds of solidarity bled into each other in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. One was entirely healthful: the solidarity that binds communities together in the wake of disaster. … The search-and-rescue effort and the physical and emotional task of re-establishing some sense of normalcy partook of a kind of local and national solidarity that is wholly worthy of celebration.

“But the 9/11 attacks simultaneously created a second sort of solidarity, the kind that often forms when a nation is attacked by a foreign enemy. No less real than the first form of solidarity, this second form is, at its base, about Us and Them. And its expressions tend to be violent and often poorly focused. 

“What Perlstein sees as a betrayal of a radical public-spiritedness, seems to me to be a fairly typical example of the way modern nations—including the United States—behave when they go to war. We are somewhat unusual in our ability to generally keep the worst ravages of our wars away from our shores. But the loss of civil liberties and growth of state power, the acceptance of torture, and so forth are all too typical of wartime. Far from betraying the wartime solidarity produced by 9/11, the crimes recounted by Perlstein are its fruits.”

Digby, at Alternet, is hopeful the damage Perlstein observed isn’t permanent: “[Perlstein] captures the way [solidarity] fell apart almost immediately in service of a dishonest and corrupt agenda. [Republicans] have long led a concerted campaign to divide people along ideological fault lines.

“I guess there’s no way to truly measure what that destruction of trust did to our national psyche, coming as it did in the wake of an unprecedented attack that left us feeling uniquely vulnerable as a nation. But it was bad. In fact, for people who came of age politically in that era, I think it was scarring on a very fundamental level and has made them wary of any belief in human folly that isn’t grounded in corruption and deceit and determinedly cynical about the whole concept of solidarity.

“But, there is a way back. Look at Wisconsin. People there have been radicalized, in that good, ‘solidarity’ kind of way. Average people looking out for each other, having a stake in each other’s survival is certainly possible. But it’s going to take an effort on the part of the people to face down the plutocrats and the politicians who represent us. It’s been done before.”

Washington Versus D.C.

On his blog, Screw Rock n’ Roll, Jonathan Bradley reacts to Adam Serwer’s piece (“A City Divided”), which discusses how white Washington and black D.C. share the District: “From my short period living in the D.C. area (Arlington, VA), I think part of the story is that the structural forces are so great that it’s hard for Washington to interact with D.C. even if it wants to. I knew about the divide in the city when I arrived there, and didn’t want to stay in Washington. But I was doing a full working week in Congress, all the people I met were from Washington, and so all the neighborhoods I grew to know were also in Washington. Even my long-held desire for the simplest and most superficial engagement with D.C.—a go-go show—never materialized, because my social circle wasn’t interested the way I was, and on the rare occasions I had a chance to go alone, I shied away from navigating parts of the city I did not know anything about but had heard might be dangerous. Besides, I had no car, and Metro coverage seemed less universal in those parts of the city.”

At ThinkProgress, Matthew Yglesias writes that Serwer goes too far: “Claims about the city being ‘a city divided’ need to be tempered by the reality that these divisions exist all over the place. It’s divided because it’s a city located in the United States of America and America has a lot of economic disparities.”

The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates weighs in on the remarkable wealth disparity between blacks and whites in D.C.: “Ward 7 (96 percent black) has the highest unemployment rate in the country. Second highest? Ward 8, which is 94 percent black. … You have essentially the most unemployed population in the country, living in the same city with one of the most employed populations. The starkness in terms of wealth—by which I mean literal, educational, social, etc.—and race in Washington has always been striking. D.C. is a pretty accurate economic portrait of black America—poor, working class, middle class, and upper middle class. But as a portrait of white America, it’s really airbrushed. I’ve always thought that too many of our wonks live in Washington and Manhattan—places where ‘white and poor’ is an extinct species.”

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