The Great Unknown: America Post-9/11, Like Now, Filled With Certainty, Uncertainty

I was working for a sales and marketing company in the time immediately preceding and after the attacks of September 11, 2001.  Door-to-door sales for utility and cable companies, mostly.  It wasn’t glamorous work, but it paid well.

On the Thursday and Friday following the attacks on that bright, crisp and clear Tuesday morning, I recall being in an upper middle class neighborhood somewhere near Yardley, Pennsylvania.  Not rural or anything, but big houses and big yards.  I recall going through the motions with people when it came to the sales aspect of the job, but also connecting with folks in a way that door-to-door salesmen generally do not. That far up near the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border, more than a few people treated the area as a bedroom community to New York City.

I also distinctly remember looking up into the bright, blue skies and seeing nothing.  No airplanes.  No contrails.  Nothing.  It was eerie.

America in the aftermath of 9/11 was a mixture of certain and uncertain.

I sense that same feeling today.

In the days after so many of us watched the Twin Towers fall, cried out and prayed for the victims and their families, so much was uncertain: Who was responsible for the attack?  Why did the attack take place?  Would there be more attacks like it?  Bigger attacks?  Smaller?  Are we going to war?  If so, where?  How will what happened that day change our lives?  How will it change the world?

The people I sat down with in those days had questions like that.  Some people wondered how long they would feel the sadness and loss that was felt during that week.  Many wanted blood.  Others, with children in the military or even with children nearing that age where military service was contemplated, certainly wanted retribution but were overcome with concern that it would be their son or their daughter who would have to pay the price.

At that time, I don’t know that any one of us could have predicted what America would look like and feel like one year following the attacks, five years following the attacks, ten years following the attacks.  Around Federal buildings, armed guards stood at the ready.  Air traffic had not resumed.  Anti-aircraft infrastructure was present and visible in Washington, D.C. and beyond.

That was the uncertain.

Soon thereafter, however, a change started to take place.  Flags started popping up everywhere.  Painted on mailboxes, hanging from construction cranes, affixed to car windows, dotting curbsides in Main Street America from coast to coast.  America was coming together, and in the weeks after the attacks had indeed come together in a way that this nation hadn’t seen since the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

The horror of September 11, 2001 had given way to patriotism, to optimism, to unity.  At that time, it seemed like it would last forever. There was an overwhelming feeling that America, that Americans, would survive, would recover, would have our retribution, and would be the stronger for it all.

That was the certainty.

Now, whether certain segments of the American population want to admit it or not, our great nation stands on the brink of financial collapse.  The taking class is overwhelming the making class, and the nation’s lawmaking elite are robbing the latter of any and all incentive to keep sustaining the unsustainable.  The American entrepreneurial job creator, once the centerpiece of our economy and exceptionalism, is now little more than the Sisyphus to the utopians’ boulder.

On a personal front, I bucked the trend and started a business in July.  In part, I did so because I know that my work ethic and marketing ability can temper the uncertainty of the time.  For so many others, though, for whom starting a small law practice or small business is not feasible, that uncertainty runs to the heart of their family’s security.  And for the small business owners who employ them, the uncertainty manifests in a way not unlike the uncertainty following the attacks of September 11, 2001: Who was truly responsible for the economic crisis?  Are we really on the upswing, or will there be more hard times like there are now?  If there are more, will it be worse than now?  Not quite as bad?  Will we recover?  If so, how?  When?  In the meantime, what can I expect in terms of my tax burden?  My regulatory compliance?  How will this change the way we do business going forward?

In my travels promoting Lowcountry Divorce & Family Law, I talk to a lot of small business owners.  Owners of mom and pop restaurants, insurance agents, financial planners, skate shop owners, everything that you can imagine.  All seem to have questions like that.  Some wonder if they’ll be able to keep the doors to their business open.  Many wonder whether they will be able to make their overhead, nonetheless pay themselves something at the end of the month.  Others wonder if they’ll be able to hire and expand, overcome with concern that they could risk digging themselves into an unnecessary hole in the process.

Right now, for all the talk on the left, the right and everywhere in between, I don’t know that any of us can predict what America will look like and feel like one year from now, five years from now, ten years from now.  Around our nation, more people are going on food stamps every month than are getting jobs.  People are resigning themselves to a “new normal.”  Bankruptcies and foreclosures are on the rise.  In my business, husbands and wives who have reached the end of their marital relationship are dividing debt rather than assets.

The uncertainty is palpable, stifling, and self-sustaining if nothing is done.

At the same time, however, I see a sense of inevitability among Americans, resolve in knowing what needs to be done.  Millons of American families have survived layoffs, downsizing and financial calamity by drawing upon common sense and tightening the belt a bit, reassessing income, expenses, and the ways to increase the former and temper the latter.  More and more, Americans seem to understand that the same must be done on a macro level to ensure survival of our nation.

No, we’re not seeing flags pop up everywhere, though here in the Palmetto State, I certainly have noticed an increase in the number of Gadsden flags on flagpoles, on car windows, and on t-shirts and hats.  Much of America is coming together, and not necessarily along the lines of right and left.  People are coming together with a mutual understanding of what the proper size, scope, role and purpose of government should be.  People are coming together, circling the wagons as best possible to ensure the survival of as many as they can.

With any luck, the doldrums of our economic downturn will give way to common sense, to a reconnection with the values and principles which make our nation the most powerful, innovative economic force in the world.  While those in California and New York and Illinois might not see it, what I see here in the southeast and beyond is a newfound appreciation for freedom and liberty.  I’m seeing a certain inevitability when it comes to November, and in turn, I’m seeing a profound understanding that America will once again survive, and be stronger for it.

I hesitate to call it “certainty,” insofar as that much work will need to be done no matter the electoral results, but there certainly is a “certainty” to that newfound appreciation for common sense, freedom and liberty.

Now, eleven years removed from that bright, clear and crisp September morning, for the most part America has not forgotten where they were that day, how they felt that day, and what they wanted for America and for themselves that day.  I only pray that, eleven years after we start to finally turn things around, we have somehow not forgotten how fiscal irresponsibility and kicking the can down the road has tangible, terrible effects upon everyday Americans.



Jeff Schreiber, the founder and managing editor of America’s Right, is a family law attorney in the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina. He is the owner of Lowcountry Divorce & Family Law, LLC, a solo law practice established in July 2012.


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