11/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

9/11 Eight Years After

Eight years on, the horrific attacks of 9/11 are affecting the American psyche in ways we have yet to fully appreciate.

Americans have struggled with crafting a new relationship with ourselves and others and drafting a new balance of liberty and security.

Eight years ago this morning, I was sitting in my boss Congressman John Tierney's office when our scheduler came in and told us a plane had hit the World Trade Center. As we turned on the TV and speculated as to whether it was an accident, we saw the second plane tilt to the side and crash into the second tower. With the tilt of that plane our world went off-kilter, and we have been trying to right ourselves ever since.

The indelible images of the next few hours -- firefighters and other first responders racing into the towers, smoke rising from the Pentagon, tanks materializing on the Capitol grounds, a plane brought down in Pennsylvania, hushed briefings at Capitol police headquarters, Congressional staff streaming through new security checkpoints to the Capitol steps where our bipartisan leaders sang God Bless America, vigils for the dead and missing, people lining up to give blood to survivors too few to need their donations, grainy video of the attackers showing the new face of terror, and thousands of stories telling the shared horror on an endless cable loop.

On 9/11/01, as Americans mourned loved ones and feared future attacks, nearly all resolved not to let the terrorists change our way of life. Resolve was our common purpose.

Over the years, the politics of the wars, the PATRIOT Act, the 9/11 Commission, torture, taunts of "9/10" and related swiftboating, and calls for impeachment all eroded that unity.

It was inevitable that our philosophical differences would yield different approaches to interpersonal relationships and national security policy, but it was not and is not inevitable that we demonize each other when, quite frankly -- we are not the problem -- the terrorists are. Fear and loathing of "the other" manifest in this week's anti-immigrant rant at the President must be tamed. There are plenty of fights we can have without the ad hominem attacks which don't bring us any closer to balancing liberty and security for the common good.