Current crisis just as daunting as 9/11 - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Current crisis just as daunting as 9/11

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Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

Posted: Friday, September 9, 2011 1:45 pm | Updated: 11:02 pm, Fri Sep 9, 2011.

Here we are, 10 years removed from 9/11. But where are we?

It's a question we should ponder.

Ten years ago after the most horrific attack on our homeland, Americans united. We were not going to cower; we would not give in to the barbaric terrorism.

And for a few months, anyhow, we were not Democrats or Republicans. We were just Americans.

Not surprising, really. Not when you think about it. Attacks on our country have a way of unifying us.

But that unity was a chimera, an illusion. Just a year or so later, we were back to the partisan behavior that colors our political lives - a behavior that has only become worse over the intervening time.

To the point that now we seemingly can't find common ground on anything. And I fear what that means to our country.

Because, in its own way, the crisis we face now is as daunting as the one we faced on Sept. 11, 2001. In fact, the current crisis is even more frightening, because it is more complex.

We face a crisis of confidence in our ability to govern, suspicions from both sides that the "other side" is somehow only concerned with power, with "gotcha moments."

In the midst of that is the more serious crisis, the economic one, the one that becomes worse because of our hyperpartisanship, our desire to - instead of finding solutions - point fingers and score political points.

What's become of us, 10 years later?

We're more afraid, less secure, more suspicious, less confident. And more prone to blame each other for the messes we're in.

We hear that someone in Washington will ultimately be "the adult in the room." But those in Washington - and we, too often - behave more like spoiled teenagers.

Reason has been replaced by emotion. If we don't get our way, we throw tantrums. It's never our responsibility for something; it's always someone else's fault. And they're not just wrong; they're bad, evil. We want sacrifice, just not sacrifice that costs us anything.

So how do we get out of this mess? How do we behave as the adults we are?

Well, we first need to look at ourselves. What can we do to diminish the suspicions, the fear?

We can start by listening to others. To folks who differ from us. But we don't need to stop there. We need to speak up as well.

Most of us are not the extremists we see who dominate political and media discourse. Most of us are much more reasonable than those folks. But we tend to be silent, to let them control the debates in our country.

We can stop that, though, by speaking through our votes. The more of us who vote, the more reasonable our country could be.

Don't think so?

When few of us vote, only the most motivated do. And those people tend to be the most extreme on either end of the political spectrum. Unsurprisingly, they vote for extremist politicians as well.

But if we - the majority who tend to sit on the sidelines, indifferent or disgusted by the process - actually participate, then maybe, maybe, we'll see a more reasonable government at all levels.

Ten years out, America is a fractured mess. But we are a strong people, if we choose to exercise that strength. We need to listen, to speak out, and to participate.

The men and women who died on 9/1 deserve nothing less.

• Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.


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