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OPINION | EDITORIAL: What ails us

A former president speaks September 14, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.

"There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our continuing duty to confront them."

--George W. Bush, Saturday

So much for the former president being known for malaprops, or what were once called Bushisms. The man was once famous for "syntactical challenges." But so was the last president-general, a man known as Ike to his troops and his country.

The nation, the people, the athletes, the celebrities, and even former presidents poured out their hearts Saturday, and it was heartwarming to hear. As 9/11/2001 fades into history, as every awful event does, we wonder: How many more times will America note this date that will once again live in infamy, even if it doesn't live in prominence?

Will we gather together again in five years? Will we have these solemn occasions again on the 30th anniversary? Thirty years after Dec. 7, 1941, Americans were wearing bell bottoms, watching "All in the Family," and the Beatles had already broken up.

Something tells us, however, that the country will keep noting 9/11, at least a few more times--until those of us who remember it vividly are no longer among the quick.

"For those too young to recall that clear September day, it is hard to describe the mix of feelings we experienced," Mr. Bush said at a ceremony held at the memorial in Shanksville, Pa. "There was horror at the scale of destruction, and awe at the bravery and kindness that rose to meet it. There was shock at the audacity of evil and gratitude for the heroism and decency that opposed it."

And the first American heroes of that day went down in the field over which Mr. Bush spoke.

"In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people," he said. And we remember those days as well.

"When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own."

He isn't kidding.

Any attack on our country from the outside will naturally bring our people together. When the country was being torn apart from the inside in 1861, the secretary of state--William Seward--thought out loud about whether the new president should declare war on England or France or Spain, which might rally the South around Old Glory and put a stop to all the talk about seccession. (To which President A. Lincoln replied: "One war at a time, Mr. Seward. One war at a time.")

It's natural for a country to rally when attacked. But the divisiveness today is especially troubling, especially on the national level.

Twenty years ago, the country didn't have much in the way of social media. How much has the ability for people to go online, anonymously, to attack other people--their looks, their kids, their religion--led to this divisiveness? We certainly wouldn't print an anonymous letter to the editor. Yet that's exactly what (anti-)social media allows. In spades. By the billions. And the nastier, the more clicks.

How much has the splintering of the news media contributed to this new foul spirit of which the former president spoke? Some in the media have figured out that it is more than a little profitable to appeal only to one side of the political spectrum, and feed the fire with more and more rotten wood. It burns quickly, and hot.

How has multiple news organizations moving away from the traditional values of impartial objective journalism in its news filings contributed to the foul spirit? And that includes not just TV, talk radio and the Internet, but newspapers, too. For some of the best commentary in American newspapers today isn't found in the opinion sections, but the news columns. More's the pity.

"I come without explanations or solutions," Citizen Bush said Saturday. "I can only tell you what I've seen. On America's day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor's hand and rally to the cause of one another. That is the America I know."

We come without explanations or solutions, too. If we had the cure for what ails the country, we'd print the solution every day.

As far as the cure for what ails the American media complex, we do print the solution. See our Statement of Core Values every day on page 2A.

Print Headline: What ails us

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