Politics Never forget

As the 00's comes to a close, thousands of lists are being drawn up for Best ______ of the Decade.  I've posted a posted a few of them over the last week or two; a lot of good entertainment-focused ones from the AV Club.  A decade is a long time, and it's funny how different media have different lifecycles in our memory.  Quick jogger: some of the top grossing movies of 2000 were Cast Away, Gladiator, and X-Men - all relatively still alive and fresh in our collective consciousness, I think.  But in music, top albums were N' Sync, the Santana collaboration album, and the original Brittany Spears album.  Maybe it's just me, but those feel way, way older in my mind (just in terms of creation, not relevancy).

As I perused these relatively meaningless lists and debated them with friends, I started getting reflective.  I thought about my life over the last ten years.  And I thought about the world.  One night, I turned on the TV and was thrown immediately into the History Channel's "102 Minutes That Changed America", a documentary of September 11th that uses footage from civilians' cameras, stitching the minutes together to reshow what happened from the vantage point of those who lived it firsthand.  I picked up about 10 minutes in, and I couldn't turn it off.  Remembering 9/11 is one thing.  Reliving it, even through television, is something altogether different.

And that was when I remembered that, in the Big Picture, this past decade sucked.  It sucked hard.

Personally, I can't complain about the 2000's.  I graduated college, got a job in the post-dotcom bubble / post-9/11 economy of 2002, earned my Masters, lived in Europe, met the love of my life, and (seem to be) making it in NY.  And I took some lumps; I lost two grandparents, my parents got divorced, I went through some mild but nerve-wracking health issues, and went through a couple of rough break-ups.  All in all, what you'd expect of an upper-middle class white male in his 20's.

I can't, and won't, complain.  I've got most of Maslow's layers accounted for; I'm privileged enough to have time, the desire, and the wherewithal to think about the Big Picture.  So while I've still got lumps to take yet before I make 100, I'll never take what I've got for granted.

So to recap the decade I remember, the one I urge you all to remember as well, was this one:

  • 2000 kicked off with a stolen election.  About 6 months into service, on June 30, 2001, President Bush and his dangerously incompetent administration receive an urgent warning that bin Laden was a serious threat to the safety of the United States, and they thoroughly ignored it.
  • In August, they received a full report - "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US" - outlining months of 'blinking red' warnings that the US was under an immediate threat.  The administration, the FBI, and the CIA shuffle slightly, but no substantial effort by the government to counter the threat is made.
  • On September 11th, 2001, the United States is attacked by terrorists, who destroy the World Trade Center, part of the Pentagon, and attempt to destroy (presumably) the White House.  2,974 people are killed.*
  • In October 2001, the Bush administration starts a war in Afghanistan.
  • Within a few months, the American people begin losing numerous personal freedoms, some constitutional, in a veiled national security effort.
  • In December 2001, the Bush administration fails to kill Osama Bin Laden, who was "within our grasp".
  • In 2003, the US enters into a second war in Iraq based on "faulty intelligence" and scads of misguided, irrelevant justifications.
  • In 2004, President Bush wins a second term through continued lies and fear-mongering.
  • On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hits Louisiana while President Bush celebrates John McCain's birthday.  He goes to bed that night ignoring the governor's request for aid.  The next day, Bush continues to vacation, ignoring Louisiana and instead plays guitar with a country singer.  Hurricane Katrina kills at least 1,836 people.

And this is (mostly) just within our borders.  For the rest of his presidency, Bush continued to erode American freedoms and the essential American foundation of the separation between church and state, while instead advancing precursors to the economic crisis, illegal global totalitarianism, irreversible global ecological destruction, and continued politics of fear and destruction.  His now-defunct administration can try to pass the buck and pretend as though he somehow actually prevented attacks on domestic soil.  But in every sense of the definition of the word, George W. Bush himself was, and is still, a terrorist.  (If it helps the medicine go down, remember that reality has a well-known liberal bias.)


On January 20, 2009, the world watched the inauguration of Barack Obama with a great sense of hope, the cornerstone theme of his campaign, and a natural evolution from our eight previous years of fear, desperation, and sadness.  Election night was indeed a joyous occasion which I will never forget.  But the truth about Inauguration Day 2009 is that the only real happiness I experienced was watching the all-too-brief footage of Bush and Cheney (very slowly) walking to the chopper, to finally leave the White House.

It did feel really good to watch them go, but this reality saddens me: that disdain for Bush & Co. was so strong that it almost completely engulfed what should have been a purely positive occasion.  The day was many things: amazing, historical, inspirational.  But for me at least, it was less about the beginning of a new chapter, and more a reflection of a closing chapter to a terrible period in American history, one that spanned the first decade of the 21st century and unfortunately defined a generation.

There are a lot of people who believe we should not look back, that inquiries and analysis are a waste of time and money, and that we should only move forward.  (I won't pick apart that ridiculous logic now.)  And despite my heavy negativity of the 00's, I am looking ahead positively about the future.  While President Obama has a long way to go yet, he's definitely spent the first 11 months in office on the right paths.

But it's our responsibility to look back at the last 10 years not just in terms of successes, and certainly not solely in terms of pop culture memories.  We must reflect on our failings as a country and as a species, as to avoid the same catastrophic mistakes in the future.  Much good has followed that period of darkness, of fear, ignorance, and hate. But we owe it to ourselves to acknowledge the darkness existed, and to change our ways for the future.

George Santayana said, "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". So never forget 9/11.  But never forget the 2000's.


* The full 9/11 Commission report is available online at 9-11commission.gov in parts or as a full PDF [7.4 MB].  I'd also highly recommend the graphic novel adaptation of the report. The raw report is very long and complicated; I will attest that its novelization is incredibly helpful,  and helps to illustrate exactly what happened (literally and figuratively).

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Eric Tabone is Operations Manager at the digital strategy consultancy, Undercurrent. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his awesome wife and two kick-ass cats.

All original opinions and commentary throughout this blog (comments excluded) are Eric's alone, and do not necessarily represent Undercurrent in any way.


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