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What happened to the unity we felt after September 11?

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It felt like things were going to change. For all the horror of Sept. 11, 2001, a new feeling washed over the land in its wake: Our Divided States of America were United again.

But how would we respond?

Would it be a smart, Marshall Plantype approach to healing our broken world, or a shoot-first-ask-questionslater, Vietnam model?

Pretty soon, it was shock and awe over Baghdad, Freedom Fries and two sacrifice-free wars charged to our Chinabank credit card. Then Karl Rove decided he could parlay the whole human tragedy into a political windfall — a permanent Republican majority, he called it. You were either with ’em or against ’em. For the people we chose to lead, nothing had really changed.

But here, 10 years later, and despite being nearly bankrupt and badly divided, the American people have changed, I think. Too many have had empty chairs at the dinner table to deal with; others just long for a country that makes sense again. The loss goes beyond the victims and the soldiers — some of the trauma is from people realizing that, in the face of a generation-defining moment, our leaders chose to divide us. They failed history’s test.

Political parties are the problem.

When the only job-creating industry in the country is the party machines that sow the seeds of discord among American citizens, you know we’re in trouble.

George Washington saw all this coming and warned us. Citizens, he wrote, should be “indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest.” His “Farewell Address” also has views on war, the economy and taxes that will tingle your spine; reading it is as good a 9/11 memorial as you can get this week.

Most Americans have been seeking, in their own ways, a deeper national life since 9/11 — many are reconnecting with their local communities, from Main Street to the family farm, or seeking to tread more lightly on the land. We can reform our society to honor the sacrifices so many have made; a new common sense movement would be a great start. Let’s just not call it a party.

There was a moment, on that indelible day, to live up to our best American selves. Many did, and have ever since — first-responders, soldiers on their third Afghanistan tour, the ones who aren’t coming back — but our leaders whiffed.

A more perfect union? As old General Washington knew, political parties aren’t interested. We’re going to have to do that for ourselves.

Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.

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