When I was 5 years old, I got to watch the moon landing. When my daughter was 5 years old, she watched a jetliner smash into the World Trade Center.

I’m willing to bet that every one of you remember exactly where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001. As for me, I was firmly planted on the couch in front of the TV watching everything unfold. Moments earlier, I’d been hurrying to get dressed and off to work. But after witnessing hundreds, if not thousands, of people perish instantly in a ball of fire, my design work for a posh new country club suddenly seemed irrelevant.

Confused and scared, my daughter climbed into my lap, and I clutched her in my arms. How does one explain the events of that morning in terms that a kindergartner could understand? I watched in (mostly) stunned silence, wondering if the nightmare would ever end. Over the next couple of hours, the situation seemed to settle into an awkward, eerie calm, but deep down I had a feeling that our country had just been lured into a war that we weren’t prepared to fight.

Like most Americans, I’d never heard of Osama bin Laden or Al-Qaeda. But eight years ago today, with an attack that must have exceeded anything in his wildest dreams, Osama bin Laden caught us with our collective pants down. For many, the toll is measured in the nearly 3000 lives lost that day. Others will point to the loss of the twin towers and the disastrous mess that lower Manhattan had become. But from my vantage point, the toll remains immeasurable. For all of the physical damage, it pales in comparison to the devastation wrought on our economy, our politics, and our sense of what it means to be an American.

Now hang on, before you start hyperventilating, I know what some of you are thinking . . . Americans came together following 9/11! We drove around with little American flags and bumper stickers, and we sang “God Bless America” at baseball games! Sorry folks, that’s false patriotism. It’s done for show, and it doesn’t count. What I’m talking about is the collapse of our true spirit, the abandonment of the values that America was founded on, and the crushing political extremism that prospers in its wake.

With the words “You’re either with us, or you’re against us,” President Bush drew a line in the sand and ushered in a new era.   In post-9/11 America, fear and ignorance would be exploited for political advantage, and for profit. Intelligent and reasoned analysis, global diplomacy, and our own Bill of Rights were tossed out the window. Those who questioned our government’s tactics or motives were labelled as weak, terrorist sympathizers, un-American and, conspicuously . . . un-Christian.

Since this is a blog post and not a history document, I’ll refrain from droning on with examples. My point is simply that, when faced with a national crisis, we made a bad situation worse by abandoning our principles of tolerance, dignity, and respect; we falsified intelligence, corrupted our values, bullied our allies, and turned Americans against each other, all in the name of freedom, or God, or so-called patriotism.

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Fast-forward to today, a majority Americans have regained their perspective. Eager to put this chapter in our history behind us, the American people spoke loudly and clearly in favor of a regime change within our own borders. In an historic election, hope trumped fear, and intellect trumped propaganda. For me, it was a proud moment, but sadly, the moment has been short-lived.

Once again our country faces a crisis, a test of our character. And once again, we are seeing a deliberate, organized campaign of misinformation directed at our own citizens, ripping apart the fabric of our nation. The topic of debate has changed, but the methods have not. The rhetoric surrounding health care reform offers a stark reminder of what an ugly business politics can be. And when this is the way our national business is conducted, we all lose.

It’s easier to explain the events of 9/11 than to explain what’s happened to our unity, integrity and self-respect in the years since. Somewhere, Osama bin Laden is watching, and he’s laughing his ass off.

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