I am interested in making connections between some of the major events of the past 16 years in order to gain some insight into what has brought our country to the point that we have elected Donald Trump as our next president. In particular, I am interested in how the economic, social and political fallout of 9/11 has shaped our modern political landscape. The connections to be made primarily have to do with links between Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve’s immediate response to 9/11, and the 2007 economic downturn, and the spread of xenophobic rhetoric in the wake of 9/11 due to persistent fear mongering, and the combined effects these have had on American politics through the election of Obama, and thus the birth and growth of the Tea Party which I claim has played a large role in making Trump appear to be an electable candidate to a sizable portion of the American public.
I am looking into the relationship between the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, the rise of the Tea Party movement, and the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. Through this investigation I look to establish a connection between the events of 9/11 and the polarized politics, and strange election cycle we observe today.
Currently the scholarly discussion on these topics generally falls into one of two categories: papers that discuss 9/11 and its immediate implications, and those that investigate either the origins and politics of the Tea Party, or the role that such political movements have had in bringing Trump into his current position. Lacking in this discussion is any attempt at connecting these events to each other. With the exception of a brief aside in a single text, there is little to no mention of the role 9/11 has played in shaping the modern political landscape. In my RBA, I will look to establish a pair of connections: the first, between 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2007, and the second between pervasive Islamophobia, and the growth in the political power of the Tea Party movement. With these new links established, I will construct a more complete connection between some of the major events of the 2000’s by demonstrating how we can trace the roots of modern political trends back 15 years to one of the defining events in modern American politics.
In his article “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series,” Nicholas Evan Sarnatakes examines several episodes from the original Star Trek series as commentary on the global and domestic political climate of the 1960’s, when they were produced. One particular example examined by Sarnatakes comes takes the form of an allegory for Nazi Germany, as the Enterprise encounters a planet on which a man from Earth has set up his own fascist regime. Despite creating the state in an effort to unify the planet peacefully, it soon devolves into a belligerent, dangerous force that threatens to attack nearby worlds. In the end, the conclusion is reached that the people of Earth must obey the “Prime Directive” as it is the only way to prevent the formation of such states. In all, this episode provided commentary on U.S. foreign policy initiatives, essentially saying that America should not interfere with the affairs of foreign nations as “attempts to intervene will have repercussions for which Americans will be responsible.” The episode also hints at the superiority of Democracy over other government types, particularly totalitarianism, as it’s noted that “[when] a man holds that much power, even with the best of intentions, just can’t resist the urge to play God.” Thus even through addressing the Nazism, the writers made clear the superiority of the U.S. over the Soviet Union.
Science fiction provides writers with a safe method of addressing sensitive issues as it adds at least one layer of abstraction to whatever they are discussing in their work. Instead of having to directly comment on a global situation, and make reference to real events, science fiction writers can instead speak in hypotheticals, and use only fictional characters with outlandish or absurd features to make their points. In this way they avoid being ostracized for directly challenging cultural or societal norms, as are instead simply inventing a society where they are different. Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game provides another example of commentary similar to that made by the Star Trek series, as the novel describes a war predicated entirely on not understanding a group different from one’s own. In this way Card allegorizes racism, and shows its negative impact on all involved, thus commenting on the racist tendencies present in the modern world.
In his essay Disaster and Decentralization: American cities and the Cold War, Matthew Farish says “East River’s diverse and authoritative cast of ‘scientists, businessmen and educators’ … … detected precisely what was wrong with American Society, and what could thus doom (Western) civilization.” In sum, Farish’s paper discusses the mixing of science, social planning, and containment during the cold war era. This quote epitomizes the process through which these areas were all combined. The purpose of Project East River, as discussed in the paper, was to create a generalized report on the then current vulnerability of America to nuclear attack, and to provide some idea of how vulnerabilities might be dealt with. In assigning this task to a group of scientists, and businessmen the directors of the project represented the Cold War ideal of efficiency, and superiority over the Soviet Union. The report concluded, among other things, that “in order to keep pace with weapons development, it is essential to make urban targets less remunerative,” essentially reducing the American landscape itself to a weapon, one either to be employed by America itself, or its enemies, if nothing were to be done. This attitude is representative the ideas that larger idea that Farish espouses, i.e. that the de-urbanization of America during the era of Containment had as much to do with social change, as it did with the societal shift towards a cold and scientific view of all aspects of life, brought on by the unavoidable lens of nuclear war.
The American obsession with urban disaster sparked by the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and reinforced by the frequent reminders of what could happen to the great cities of America has persisted even beyond the end of the Cold War. It is interesting to consider the destruction of the twin towers during the September 11th attacks with this idea in mind. In the context of urban disaster, the fall of the towers represented, to many Americans, the realization of some of their most profound fears, in that an American city had been attacked, the skyline had been changed, the long predicted urban destruction had occurred. Of course, this destruction was not of the scale often imagined during the cold war, however it represented an opening of the door. With such a thing done, what might now happen in its wake? Thus the idea, and so the image of the falling towers carried much weight with the American people, as it played on a fear created over a period of decades during the Cold War, as well as the new fear of terrorism built up after 9/11, making it a quite a powerful image throughout America.
The conflation of the black rights movement with pro-communist sentiment proposed by Horne and analyzed by McDuffe provides an interesting perspective on the harsh racial divides that dominated during much of the cold war era. The natural explanation for this phenomenon is to label it a result of the binary “us and them” logic of the time, however in examining the divide through the leftist movements that black rights groups represented we can come to a deeper conclusion about the cold war and the scars it left on our political culture that remain to this day. “The campaign to silence black leftists underscores the personal and political costs of the anticommunist crusade for black radicals” writes McDuffe. I would argue that this underscores not only the cost of the anticommunist sentiment for black radicals, but also for the left in general. This explanation of the racial divide implies more than just a lack of trust for people of color, but for the political left as a whole. This conflation of liberal leaning policies and communism persists today, as even now the first mention of true leftist policies is met with cries of socialism. Thus McDuffe’s statement leads to an interesting insight into the nature of the full, lasting effects of anticommunist sentiment on the United States.
Post 9/11 there was a swift return to the rhetoric of the cold war, promoting suspicion and fear among the American populace. An example of this style of rhetoric is present in the “See Something Say Something” campaign conducted by the Department of Homeland Security as well as some smaller regional groups, such as the government of New York City.
The ads used to conduct this campaign are generally quite simple, often depicting a normal, public place, with the caption “If You See Something Say Something,” in large lettering, and a sub-caption including a number to contact should the reader in fact “see something.” The message of these ads represents a return to the cold war rhetoric of suspicion, i.e. if you think someone or something is out of the ordinary or just suspicious, you ought to tell the authorities. The setting of the images generally included also serve to remind the viewer that one must be on the lookout for terrorism everywhere, much as during the cold war Americans were reminded to be alert for the spread of communism around them. Some ads, including the one pictured above, even go so far as to include a line with a statement such as “Be Suspicious of Anything” making sure to drive home their point: everyone is a suspect. This closely parallels cold war rhetoric espousing the idea that everyone is suspect, as well as the idea that odd behavior likely has a sinister side to it. This is the same line of thinking that led to the conformist attitude that prevailed during the era of containment. Thus many aspects of these ads align very well with the rhetoric of American cold war propaganda, representing a return to the suspicion and fear of that era.