Guest blog from Niall O’Dowd, prominent Irish-American journalist and founder of newspaper Irish Voice, Irish America magazine and online news outlet Irish Central. He is also the author of Fire in the Morning (O’Brien Press) about the Irish who died on 9/11
There is direct line from attacks on 9/11 to rise of Trump
The balance between reason and rabid righteousness shifted that day – and the right wing prospered
On 9/11 2001 you had to be there to see the mayhem and confusion, watch the giant clouds spewing smoke and ashes as they swept all before them, and smell the incinerated bodies to really feel the violent impact.
You had to be there to understand it as thousands fled uptown, many covered in blood. You had to be there to feel the dawning desperation as only dead men and women were pulled from the rubble.
You had to stand outside the firehouses, arms linked with strangers, and see the ashen faces lined with pain of the firefighters coming back after another fruitless day on the pile. You had to be there to sense how bad this was going to be for you, for families, for the country, for the world.
It was as bad as we feared it would be, and it is still getting worse. The 9/11/21 madness in Afghanistan comes to us directly as a result of 9/11. The harsh new world which erupted after 9/11 has shown little sign of relenting.
Remember before 9/11 Americans were basking in the fall of communism and in a sense we were on the right side of history. But we deeply misunderstood the lethal cocktail of fanatical Muslim extremists and their use of overwhelming lethal force that was gathering pace as we were so enthralled by our own success.
The definitive account of the zeitgeist thinking back then was written by famed political scientist Francis Fukuama, who wrote an essay entitled The End of History, in which he argued that the defeat of communism was “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”.
But unknown to us that assessment was hopelessly off base. Instead we had trained our very own assassins, funding the Mujahideen and al-Qaeda in order to help them to defeat the Russians.
Al-Qaeda was headed by Saudi financier Osama Bin Laden, who was then considered an American asset. Emboldened by victory in Afghanistan, a different version of history, alas, was only unfolding. It was led by the fanatical ideologue Bin Laden, now based in Sudan and sworn to jihad against America’s men, women and children. He did his worst and succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
Ultimately, after an initial display of unity, reason lost out, and America cleaved apart. Bad actors came centre-stage, and they have lasted to this present day. Militancy and America First rules the airwaves, its winged messengers like Fox News and Donald Trump, pounding the same message of faux patriotism and America alone. They have proven they will stop at nothing to regain power, even end democracy as we know it.
For instance there is a direct line from 9/11 to Trump, and the clamour from the right to take control of America by any means, legitimate or not.
January 6th and the militia attack on the Capitol, the mob chanting “hang Mike Pence”, the concerted effort to overthrow the election by force or by fake ballots all arguably had their roots in 9/11 when the militant right got the upper hand.
9/11 was the moment that gave the hard right the opportunity to take the initiative – and it did.
Since then the wars of attrition both home and abroad against endless enemies have been launched by the right wing, often aided by a strangely quiescent news media.
The balance between reason and rabid righteousness shifted that day. Americans took sides, and the right wing prospered.
How strange that journey was can be seen in the wreckage of the political career of Rudy Giuliani and what he has become.
The New York mayor on 9/11 was the undoubted hero of that day, a man who rose to the moment, who summoned an eloquence and bravery, and fashioned a recovery strategy so well put together that we could all see him in the White House.
But Rudy has embraced the dark side. Now we see him as a performing panderer, and find it hard to believe that he was once a leader in waiting and now is an utter lapdog for Trump, his tinny whelps permeating every attempt to overthrow a legitimate election. Many like him took the same path from moderation to militancy.
The balance between the military and the media shifted too. The scope of the horror meant the cowed media effectively reported mostly only what the generals told them. Anyone who broadcast a different version was shunned.
The media disaster was not Afghanistan, where Bin Laden had to be hunted down, it was the Iraq invasion. It was the worst moment for the US media possibly ever, and certainly since the unquestioning reporting on the lies about Vietnam it accepted from the Johnson administration.
Before we knew it the New York Times, Tony Blair, the Congressional leadership on both sides were all on board the grand conspiracy to invade Iraq.
Some 20 years later, Afghanistan and Iraq are black-hole nightmares. The energy and passion on the right stirred up by 9/11 continues unabated, and reached its zenith when Trump was in the White House. The poison is still in the system as he gets ready to run again.
The hope that Americans would unite after 9/11 proved a mirage. Actually we have never been more divided.That day was the start of it all. Something wicked this way came.