To read Part I, click here.
Unity versus division
Early on, 9/11 had a unifying effect on the nation. You remember the feeling. There was a spirit of kinship. The sentiment was that the terrorism was not just an attack on New York and Washington, not just attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. No, we felt a solidarity with the victims and their families because it was America that was attacked and we were all Americans in that moment. In that season our commonality as attacked Americans mattered more than our many differences. There was an uptick in unity and kindness everywhere.
Unfortunately, as we recovered and rebuilt, as we went to war and entered election cycles, our unity faded. Not even 20 years after 9/11, the waves of COVID-19 have hit our shores at one of the most divisive periods in our nation’s history. Which leads me to my final observation of the difference between 9/11 and COVID-19.
Trust versus suspicion
Anne Applebaum wrote in The Atlantic that “epidemics have a way of revealing underlying truths about the societies they impact.” Editor, William Falk, editor-in-chief of The Week replied with, “This one (epidemic) has caught us in a moment of profound weakness. Faith in science, government, media, and all our institutions has badly eroded, and we are deeply divided politically and culturally, viewing each other as enemy tribes, not countrymen.”
I’ll always remember the photo of President Bush sitting in a classroom on the morning of September 11th when a White House aide interrupts and whispers something in the president’s ear. With my eyes closed I can still see that image and the look on Bush’s face as he’s receiving the news. We all had an initial facial expression that looked something like his—one of horrified disbelief.
Keep in mind the 2000 election was tightly contested and Bush’s declared victory by the Supreme Court was very controversial. On September 11, 2001 George W. Bush was president of a nation where half the people voted for his opponent, Al Gore. But in the early days after 9/11 the election and personal feelings about George Bush seemed to matter little to the press or to the population. We were all in this together and we needed a leader.
In contrast, many on the right claimed the coronavirus pandemic was overhyped or even a hoax, a conspiracy by Democrats and the leftist media to tank the stock market and take down Trump in the 2020 election since the attempt at impeachment had failed. On the other hand, moderates and those on the left saw the president and his staff making false statements, denying and minimizing the impact of COVID-19 to soothe the stock market and antsy voters, sorely delaying timely response by the CDC and other health agencies.
A recent study revealed that how seriously Americans are taking the virus is significantly influenced by their political affiliation (Republican or Democrat) and which news network they engage as their primary source of information.
Recovery versus coping
After a natural disaster or a terrorist activity has done its worst, the work of responding and recovering begins. But the coronavirus is still with us. And we don’t even know how long it will be with us. We don’t really know about the availability of enough testing kits or sufficient hospital beds. We don’t know how long we’ll be social distancing. We don’t when we can return to work, to church, to restaurants, to sporting events, to concerts and movie theaters. We don’t know when we’ll be able shake hands and hug each other again.
We currently have more questions than answers. It seems there is more that we don’t know than we do know. But we’ll hold onto faith and resolve. We’ll seek to keep not only our wits about us but even a sense of humor. And we’ll get through it together, however bad it gets, however long it takes. And when we get through to the other side of it we’ll celebrate together. Oh, how we’ll celebrate together.
Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Franklin (www.ramonpressontherapy.com) and the author of several books. Reach him at email@example.com.