Originally published in The Providence Journal November 15, 2001, page B6.
Who are these people?
Now that the dust of modern life, which was kicked up by the tumultuous emotions following September 11, has begun to settle in my mind, some exposed questions continue to stick out conspicuously, dominated by "Who are these people?" and "How did they get where they are?" They are the questions of a nation that has seen the incongruities of its culture laid bare by the shattering of the distorted glass through which it has observed itself.
Who are these politicians who run away at the first sign of a minor biological threat while urging us to go on with our lives? If they represent us, why do they seem always on the verge of contradicting the wishes of the American people in order to take the easy road in this treacherous but absolutely crucial international battle of wills that we now face? If they are to be for the people of the United States of America, how is it that they can propose measures that will hugely infringe on our civil rights but that barely offer an iota of additional protection?
Who are these actors who take the opportunity of a podium in front of the people who have most vividly seen the destruction of the attack to make a naive plea for an obviously impossible peace? Who are these movie directors who compare Osama bin Laden to Einstein and are barely able to hold back their glee at the death of thousands of movie goers? The dead will never see "Born on the Fourth of July II."
Who are these college professors who allow, perhaps encourage, patriotic students and supporting staff to be silenced so as not to offend foreign students? Who are they then to turn around and cry censorship and McCarthyism when their own ridiculous and infantile views are so much as criticized? Moreover, why do our educators and researchers urge policy decisions to be based on questionably performed "academic" studies and lala-land abstract theories rather than on evidence from the real world... our world?
Who are these millionaire preachers who lie that they have been invited to negotiate with the enemy? Who are these novelists who, for all their claims of portraying the underlying truth in life, cannot find a distinction between as unambiguous a manifestation of evil as we are likely to ever see and a humanly flawed, but well-intentioned American population? Who are these columnists who selectively cite only convenient facts and twist and rewrite history using the footnotes of the professors to find some way to blame America? And they do not blame those in the nation who profit most by its opportunities many of the people listed here but the broader group of you and me, whom they believe to be so uncouth and uncivilized that we need constant chastising to behave ourselves.
Who are these network-news executives who go out of their way to present sympathetic pictures of wounded Afghans and announce U.S. military missteps while not walking a few New York City blocks to photograph a victim of the attacks with burn wounds still not yet healed and a World Trade Center still smoldering? How could they, men and women who are trained in the art of rhetoric and implications, allow their stations' coverage of our just and righteous war to be called "America Strikes Back," as if Colin Powell were Darth Vader and President Bush were the Emperor?
Lastly, who are the rest of us, the regular, real, and sane people of America, who have not confiscated the podiums of these bizarre caricatures? If anything valuable has emerged from the aftermath of September 11, it is the stark portrayal of the delusions and out-of-touch beliefs of the elite people to whom we have granted fairy-tale lives by voting for them, going to their movies, sending our children to their colleges, buying their books and their papers, and watching their television shows.
I, for one, want it all to change. I'm not exactly sure how an entirely new class of sympathetic, intelligent, honest, forthright, and representative celebrities with integrity can replace the current symposium of snakes, but it must begin with the desire for change. Once the choice to change is made, perhaps a sufficient next step would be to inconvenience ourselves just slightly to better understand who it is that benefits from our consent and our dollars and redirect that consent and those dollars where they might reward the qualities that our most visible citizens should project.
Beyond concrete acts and statements, we can take the hot air out of the balloons of our elite buffoons by returning to the practice of participating in our own lives and enjoying each other's company more than that of two-dimensional moving mannequins on the television and looking to thought and activity for entertainment rather than patronizing the buffoons' silly puppet shows.