The lesson of 9/11 we didn't really want to learn

On the roster: The lesson of 9/11 we didn’t really want to learn - Dubya hits the trail in Florida - New Hampshire Dems face bumper crop of candidates - Romney breaks ranks, calls out republicans on debt - Hambezzlement

We are now about as far from the events of Sept. 11, 2001 as the Americans who elected Bill Clinton president in 1992 were from the end of the Vietnam War.

That conflict, our nation’s first significant military defeat, claimed the lives of 58,220 troops, almost a third of whom were draftees. In the almost 20 years of the American military presence in that country, the federal government lied repeatedly, terribly mismanaged the war effort and in nearly way imaginable abrogated its duty to the public.

Just three decades before, our republic had defeated the Axis powers in a conflict that spanned the globe and only asked in return enough soil to bury our dead. America lifted its enemies from their deserved ruin and remade the whole world order to reflect the values of our own founding.

But when the last helicopters lifted off from the roof the U.S. embassy in Saigon in the spring of 1975, our desperate allies clinging to the struts for one last hope to escape the murderous retribution of the invading enemy force, the promise of 1945 left with them.

The war had divided our nation so hopelessly that nothing – not the courage and sacrifice of the men who fought the war, not landing an American on the moon, not the end of legal segregation, not the longest period of economic expansion to that point in history – could knit back together the political consensus shredded by the tragedy of Vietnam.

Surely we could never, ever forget the lessons for which we paid so dear a price.

But in the relative blink of an eye, Americans enthusiastically elected a man who had evaded service in the war and for whom foreign policy was a seeming afterthought.

Clinton would go on to not just repeat some of the same mistakes of Vietnam in the form of open-ended, ambiguous commitments of America troops abroad, sometimes to disastrous ends. This was a man who even nakedly deployed military force to distract from the scandals that hung like a dank fog around his White House.

It had only been 17 years. How could we have forgotten so much, so soon?

The answer then was as obvious as the answer for us today: We forgot, because it was too uncomfortable to keep the lessons. We forgot because we wanted to.

Forgetfulness is a necessary component for our survival as a species and our emotional health as individuals. If we kept every shattering experience in the front of our minds, we could never heal. If our memories didn’t so masterfully airbrush out suffering while illuminating joy we would be prisoners of our own fears. There would be no second children.

But that does not mean we cannot learn from our suffering. In fact, it is the only reliable instructor. As Ben Franklin taught us, “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that.”

Americans have taken many lasting lessons from the attacks of 17 years ago. The strong bipartisan consensus in favor of swift, decisive action against Islamist militants stands out as one. The enormous support for robust military spending and emphasis on preparedness reflects a lessons learned by a nation pulled violently from the dream that history had come to its end.

Every first responder, air traveler and officer worker moves through a world remade by 9/11. And every American old enough to remember – which is now only about two thirds of us – responds to potential dangers differently because of what the members of al Qaeda managed to do that day.

What we have rushed to forget, though, is the lesson we so badly wanted to learn in those raw, wrenching days after the attack as the spider web of grief spread across the country from New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

One of the most treasured and often repeated sayings about 9/11 is the line from the widow of Jason Dahl, the pilot of Flight 93, the doomed airliner that, perhaps thanks to the courage of passengers and crew, crashed in a former Pennsylvania coal mine rather than its intended target of the U.S. Capitol.

A year later, Sandy Dahl retuned to the scene as part of her mission to build a fitting memorial for her husband and the 39 other Americans who died there. She said, “If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.”

Her comments resonated because Dahl expressed what was so much on the hearts of Americans. The attacks came during an era of viscous political infighting. We had a failed impeachment two years before. And just 10 months before the attack, a presidential election had remained unresolved for 41 agonizing days. Cynicism abounded.

We had been narrowly, bitterly divided. We had been hateful to each other. We had put party over country. But no longer, we said. Our new motto would be simple: United we stand.

And for a time, it seemed like it was working. But in truth, the most rotten practitioners of the dark arts of division were only waiting a decorous period of time before they resumed their incantations. It didn’t really matter who broke the truce, because once it was broken all sides swiftly resumed their work of scraping down what remained of our civic virtue for their own advantage.

We only wished we had learned not to be cynical and hateful. Like Dahl, we wanted something of real meaning for the country to come from something so painful. But we were only wishing.

Today, on the 17th anniversary of the murder of 2,977 Americans, we have a president who carelessly attacks our own Justice Department. That’s the same department that has wildly succeeded in the only mission that mattered to Americans in the aftermath of the attacks. Those are the lawyers and agents who have spent much of the last 17 years keeping us safe.

But it would not be in President Trump’s personal interest to praise the same department that is prosecuting his associates and investigating the potential wrongdoing by Americans in helping Russia tilt the 2016 election in his favor. So instead, he lashes out at his own appointees, even on the day we remember how dire the consequences of executive branch dysfunction can be. His solipsism seems to know no limit.

On the same day, one of Trump’s leading detractors – an erstwhile courtier cast out of the golden throne room who has turned now reinvented himself as a martyr for the resistance – wrote that the president was worse than the terrorists of 9/11. A former Congressman who stoked the fires of hate from the other side 20 years ago to impeach a Democratic president now finds it benefits him more to play it the other way.

Those aren’t people trying to remember the lesson and then falling short. Those are people who reject it. To hell with standing united. Let’s stand at 10 paces with pistols drawn.

Dahl, who died of an overdose and her own grief six years ago, was right. Life is indeed short, but our politicians from the top down have found that there is still plenty of time for hate – as long as it profits them.

“Distrust naturally creates distrust, and by nothing is good-will and kind conduct more speedily changed.”– John JayFederalist No. 5

Gizmodo: “Last month, Russian archaeologists found a secret chamber inside a medieval castle. While exploring this previously unknown area, the archaeologists discovered a clay brick with tracings of what appears to be a medieval board game. The Swedish-built fortress, called Vyborg Castle, dates back to the 13th century, and is located in northwest Russia near the town of Vyborg in Leningrad Oblast. The fortress, which sits close to the Finnish border, was built on a tiny islet along a strait connecting Vyborg Bay to Viipuri Bay, with the strait acting as a natural moat. The castle has changed hands throughout its long history, with Russia and Finland re-taking possession multiple times. … Castle records dating back to the mid-16th century make note of a “secret house,” from which a staircase leads to the shore of the strait. Fascinatingly, this newly discovered passageway may extend all the way to the city of Vyborg, though that has yet to be proven.” 

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Trump job performance
Average approval: 37.8 percent
Average disapproval: 54.4 percent
Net Score: -16.6 points
Change from one week ago: down 1 point
[Average includes: CNN: 36% approve - 58% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve - 54% disapprove; Gallup: 40% approve - 54% disapprove; Grinnell College/Selzer: 39% approve - 50% disapprove; IBD: 36% approve - 56% disapprove]

Control of House
Republican average: 40.2 percent
Democratic average: 49.4 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 9.2 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 1.8 points
[Average includes: Grinnell College/Selzer: 45% Dems - 43% GOP; IBD: 50% Dems - 39% GOP; ABC/WaPo: 52% Dems - 38% GOP; USA Today/Suffolk: 50% Dems - 39% GOP; NBC/WSJ: 50% Dems - 42% GOP.]

Politico: “Florida Republican Rick Scott is as close as any governor with Donald Trump. Yet it’s former President George W. Bush, no friend to Trump, who will join Scott at two fundraisers for a super PAC backing Scott’s Senate campaign Friday. It’s the latest instance of the Florida governor visibly tying his political fortunes to a prominent Republican other than the current president. Scott — who was frequently by Trump’s side at the White House and at his resorts in Palm Beach and Bedminster, New Jersey, in 2017 — began putting more distance between himself and the unpopular president this year as he geared up for a Senate run that Trump himself had repeatedly urged him to make. Scott also chaired the super PAC backing Trump’s 2016 presidential bid. Now Scott seldom mentions the president and won’t commit to having an event with him specifically. ‘I want everybody that believes in what I'm going to do to come help me win,’ Scott told a Tampa Bay Times reporter last week when asked if he would like having Trump campaign for him.”

Uh-oh: Gillum gaffe gives DeSantis an opening - The Hill: “GOP Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis on Monday seized on comments from his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, in which Gillum said he hopes to change the view among some that Florida is viewed as the ‘uh-oh state.’ … ‘It’s pretty disappointing that my opponent @AndrewGillum thinks Florida is an ‘uh-oh’ state. I’m unapologetically proud of our state and the 20 million hard-working residents who call the Sunshine State home.’ DeSantis tweeted. … DeSantis, a former House lawmaker, was referencing comments from Gillum circulated in the conservative Washington Free Beacon, which published video from the candidate's recent rally in Orlando. ‘We’re going to have the state that is the marvel of many,’ Gillum said. ‘Too often Florida is seen as always the uh-oh state. Uh oh, they’ve done it again. Uh oh, they can’t run elections. Uh oh, we got close enough, but we couldn’t get past it. We’re gonna change that narrative on November sixth,’ he added.”

Suburban Republicans walk Trump tightrope - LA Times: “As the midterm elections approach and vulnerable House Republicans nervously navigate around an unpopular president, charting a course is particularly fraught in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where the dominant ideology is pragmatism and fickle voters have little patience for Washington’s political drama. And it is here that two Republican lawmakers representing nearly adjacent districts, and espousing similar centrist goals, have nonetheless chosen divergent paths to seek victory as representatives of a party now thoroughly defined by President Trump. Rep. Tom MacArthur, from a district just over the state line in New Jersey, tilted right as opportunities emerged to ally with Trump, a president still supported by most registered Republican voters. Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrickstubbornly kept his distance, taking a lonely course down the middle. One thing they have in common: both are in political peril.”

In Hollywood, midterms are what’s trending - WaPo: “They were there to meet and raise money for a political candidate, a typical scene in this go-to region for Democratic campaign cash. Except that the candidate — Madeleine Dean — is not a national rising star. She is a state lawmaker and first-time House candidate from southeast Pennsylvania. The host, Bill Chais, co-executive producer of the CBS drama ‘Bull,’ said he has become ‘maniacal’ about helping Democrats take back the House in 2018. But rather than cutting a check to the Democratic Party, he is picking individual candidates — poring over endorsements by Emily’s List and trading political handicapping emails with Hollywood friends. Hollywood’s fervor for this year’s midterm elections rivals that of recent presidential campaigns, according to Democratic donors and strategists in the Los Angeles area who say the energy is driven by a belief that a Democratic-controlled House can serve as a powerful check on President Trump.”

Walker struggling - AP: “Scott Walker now finds himself in the political fight of his life. Polls over the past month have shown the race between Walker and Tony Evers, a low-key career educator, to be a dead heat in Wisconsin, which is closely divided between Republicans and Democrats. But in a bad sign for Walker, the polls also show independent voters who have been critical to his narrow victories in the past are moving away from Walker. … There was a cascade of bad news for Walker over the weekend. A third former Walker Cabinet secretary spoke out against the governor, saying Walker is not telling the truth about road projects. There were also reports about mounting legal costs to defend lawsuits by inmates at the state’s juvenile prison and increased scrutiny of Walker’s use of the state airplane, which critics say he’s exploiting for political gain. On Monday, the Republican Governors Association tried to come to the rescue, announcing its first ad in a $5.7 million TV buy for the final two months of the race.”

Union Leader: “In an ordinary cycle, the [New Hampshire] primary election in a non-presidential year would elicit yawns from voters and a narrow turnout consisting mostly of party stalwarts. But this off-year election is anything but ordinary with high voter interest and a pervasive sense that a lot is at stake, even though incumbent Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and incumbent Democratic 2nd District Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster have no primary opposition. The major races are in the Democratic primary for governor, the Republican primary to decide who will run against Kuster in the fall and a wide open congressional seat in the 1st District with multiple candidates from both parties. Secretary of State Bill Gardner is predicting that each of the two major parties will attract about 90,000 voters to the polls. That’s high for Democrats, who turned out 72,431 voters in the September primary of 2016; but low for Republicans, with 111,271 votes cast two years ago.”

Republicans hope to exploit crowded Dem. field in N.H. congressional race - Fox News: “Sen. Rand Paul parachuted into the midterm campaign trail in New England this weekend, to make a rare endorsement in a GOP congressional primary. He was back in New Hampshire for the first time since 2016, to support ‘my friend and your next congressman, Andy Sanborn.’ The famous Kentucky senator is hardly the only national figure jumping into the fray of the First District congressional race, with a late-season primary set for Tuesday. It’s one of the most crowded and closely watched races of the year, and one of 2018’s few opportunities for Republicans to swipe a seat from Democrats. Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter’s retirement ‘makes the seat a true jump ball,’ Republican consultant Ryan Williams said. ‘Given partisan leanings of the district and its historical willingness to send Republicans to Washington, it’s a tremendous pickup opportunity for the party in what could be a big year for Democrats,’ said Williams.”

Kelly, Marchand square off to challenge Sununu for N.H. Governor - WMUR: “Molly Kelly and Steve Marchand both attended a barbecue hosted by the Sullivan County Democrats. The two are vying in Tuesday’s primary to take on Republican Gov. Chris Sununu in November. ‘I believe in New Hampshire if one of us is to thrive, we must all thrive. We're in this together,’ Kelly said at the barbecue. ‘We are here to promote and advocate and hustle and work our you-know-what off to make this an amazing place to be,’ Marchand said at the same event. Speaking about their vision on a range of issues -- including education, gun laws and women's reproductive rights -- each candidate looked to stand out and connect with fellow Democrats. Both are confident their experience will help them move forward.”

Axios: “Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney on Monday called out Republicans for failing to fight for their longtime goal of lowering the country’s deficit, arguing that the party has ‘become silent’ on the issue. ‘Republicans have been shouting about this as long as I can remember. ... But now that Republicans are in charge in Washington, we appear to have become silent about deficits and debt,’ said Romney. The national deficit grew by 20% ($75 billion) over the past year, partially due to President Trump's tax cuts, and is expected to balloon to $1 trillion by 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office's latest report. Republicans also passed a sweeping $1.3 trillion spending bill earlier this year which has contributed to the rise.”

House GOP pushes for second round of tax cuts before midterms - AP: “House Republican leaders have unveiled their proposal to expand the massive tax law they hustled through Congress last year. They’re aiming to make permanent the individual tax cuts and small-business income deductions now set to expire in 2026. With midterm elections barely two months away, the second crack at tax cuts outlined Monday is portrayed as championing the middle class and small businesses. Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, who heads the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is looking toward a vote on the legislation by the House this month. The solid Republican majority in the House nearly ensures passage before the November elections. But prospects for the legislation in the Senate are weak, given the slim Republican majority and concern over the potential for further blowing up the deficit with a new tax cut — without corresponding new revenue sources. And even some House Republicans oppose a new tax bill.”

Moderate GOPers push for extension of Violence Against Women Act - Roll Call: “Nearly 50 House Republicans are calling on Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to bring a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act to the floor before it expires Sept. 30. ‘Since being signed into law in 1994, VAWA has helped to protect and support millions of Americans who have faced domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking,’ the group, led by New Yorkers John Katko and Elise Stefanik, wrote in a letter. The group cited Centers for Disease Control statistics that show one in three women and one in six men encounter sexual violence during their lifetime.”

Voters hot on the economy but frosty toward Trump Quinnipiac University

Senate Intel unlikely to release final Russia report before midterms - Roll Call

Sessions’ lawyer refutes account of campaign meeting on Russia - NYT

“They say, ‘Maxine, please don’t say impeachment anymore.’ And when they say that, I say ‘impeachment, impeachment, impeachment, impeachment, impeachment, impeachment, impeachment, impeachment.’” – Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) while accepting an award from the Stonewall Young Democrats in Los Angeles.

“Thank you for providing this wonderful passage from your book. I look forward to reading my copy when it arrives. It sums up what I’ve been saying for a long time. People are too quick to scream that the sky is falling and buy into the media hysteria and it gives people the idea that we are not strong enough to see through a President with populist impulses. I share the concerns about the President’s behavior, but we must have more faith in our constitution and the institutions that check the President. American Democracy has its flaws, and populism can exploit those flaws, but the republic will correct those flaws and learn from them and we will be stronger as a result.”  Shelly Renshaw, Normal, Ill.

[Ed. note: God bless you, Ms. Renshaw! That’s just exactly what I was talking about in “Every Man a King.” I hope you like the rest of the book so well
Support from Thousands of readers like you has made debut a success beyond my wildest imaginings. For those who ordered in time for Monday’s deadline, your signed bookplates should already be on their way. For those who would still like to order, you can still this site. I’m working on a plan to sign more copies by mail. I will keep you posted! I’d also love to hear some responses to the book and discuss it in this space. I want to keep this conversation going.]

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Columbus Dispatch: “Authorities in eastern Ohio say a grocery store employee has been charged with felony theft for helping herself to deli ham for years. Tuscarawas County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Hale tells The Columbus Dispatch that an eight-year employee of regional grocery chain Giant Eagle was charged Friday with stealing food estimated by the store to be worth $9,200. The store's loss prevention manager received a tip that an employee had been eating three to five slices of ham nearly every day over eight years. Authorities say she also sometimes ate salami.”

“If we don’t get politics right, everything else risks extinction.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in The Washington Post, December 29, 2011.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Dave Sweet contributed to this report.