Amidst the solemn ceremonies and remembrances this past weekend of the terrorist attack 20 years ago on 9/11, one thing is clear: America is far better protected from a similar act of terrorism than we were on 9/10/01.
To be sure, our higher level of protection has come at great cost, but we have had nothing close to a similar incident since that terrible day, unlike in other countries, especially France, where high-profile, coordinated attacks by known terrorist groups have killed dozens of innocent civilians.
But if we are to assess our country today vs. where we were 20 years ago, by almost every other measure our nation is worse off.
The 9/11 attack rightly spurred us to invade Afghanistan, from where Osama bin Laden was directing his terrorist organization. Our military took care of business in short order, destroying bin Laden’s network. But our rapid and easy success led us to continue with our military occupation of Afghanistan for 20 years and undertake an invasion of Iraq, even though there was no connection between that country and 9/11.
Those two foolhardy, deceitful, and hubristic endeavors have had disastrous consequences that reverberate today.
In addition, newly-released documents have revealed that both wars essentially were nothing more than a money-grab both by special interest groups in this country and by corrupt government officials in those countries. The vast majority of the trillions of dollars we spent lined the pockets of corrupt individuals and groups both here and abroad.
If we examine our domestic situation since 9/11, drug overdose deaths in the U.S, which reached an all-time high of almost 90,000 in 2020, are six times greater today than they were in 2001. The simple arithmetic tells us that we presently are losing as many Americans to drug overdoses every 12 days as we lost on 9/11.
The average life-span of many American sub-groups, especially white males who are victims of the so-called deaths of despair, has decreased for the first time in more than a century, even without factoring in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Income inequality and the accumulation of obscene wealth by a small group of individuals already was a problem in 2001, but 20 years later, the unequal distribution of our national wealth into the hands of a few has accelerated many times over and continues unabated. Combined with the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, we are realizing that a democracy exists in name only when we have a stratification of wealth in our society that is the equivalent of a real-life Hunger Games.
Natural disasters were few and far between prior to 2001, but nine of the 10 costliest hurricanes in our history have occurred since 2005. Thanks to our refusal to acknowledge climate change and to take the necessary steps both to reduce its impact and prepare for its consequences, our nation (and the world) routinely has been ravaged by an ever-accelerating number of natural disasters that have far exceeded the cost of what we might have spent to reduce greenhouse emissions, the source of atmospheric warming.
Facebook, Twitter, and similar platforms did not exist in 2001, but today they dominate our informational and political landscape and chiefly are responsible for the spread of misinformation and disinformation, from both domestic and foreign sources, that have undermined both our democracy and our ability to fight COVID-19.
As for COVID-19, today we are losing 3000 of our fellow citizens — the equivalent of those we lost on 9/11 — every two days because of COVID-19, which in the past 18 months has claimed the lives of more than 660,000 Americans.
We have the ability to fight back against COVID-19 — masks and vaccines are our readily-available weapons — but with tens of millions of Americans failing to join in the battle, spurred on by disinformation on social media and dishonest politicians such as Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, our tragic and horrific daily death toll is the best evidence that we are losing the war vs. COVID.
Lastly, if someone had predicted in 2001 that within 20 years, a right-wing mob, spurred on by social media, would have stormed the Capitol building in an attempt to stop the counting of the Electoral College — in support of President Donald Trump — the entire scenario would have been the stuff of a fictional satire in a humor magazine. (And probably would have been rejected for being outlandishly ridiculous.)
To those of the younger generation for whom 9/11 is not even a memory, we sadly report that by almost every metric, America today is in far worse shape than when the twin towers tragically were attacked 20 years ago.
So the question is this: If things have gotten this bad over the past 20 years, is there any hope that things will be better 20 years from now?