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Stephen Gyllenhaal

Stephen Gyllenhaal

Posted: September 12, 2006 03:01 PM

The Day After 9/11


I've been wrestling with the strangest daydream since yesterday, the fifth anniversary of 9/11. It came around nine am east coast time and seemed way off point at first, given the date and time. It went something like this: Karl Rove and gang haven't been manipulating those boobs in the red states; it's the other way around.

All those evangelical-right-wing-Christian-overweight-fools in their mega-church-garbage-TV realities? They're actually smarter than Karl. And me. And maybe you too (best for you to judge that part, though). Maybe smarter than all of us put together.

And then I woke up (or whatever you do when you come out of a daydream) and, in the most rational, well informed, progressive (we don't dare use liberal anymore) voice I could muster, asked - what the hell did that mean?

I was tempted to crack a joke. Does it mean I'm going to hell? Is the Rapture coming on Tuesday? Not a great day for jokes, except those folks in the red states control all three branches of government now and their every fantasy is the agenda that is rolling over our earnest Democrats like they're the joke. I tried to tell myself that it's really the agenda of the fascist/multinational/military/corporate juggernaut, but whom does that juggernaut cater to?

And then I drifted off again (call it denial) but maybe it's something cleverer and this face flitted past my own face (it's a day dream so things are a little less defined than in a real dream) - when I was a kid that face was everywhere: framed above my bed with it's bland, beatific smile, long hair, a respectable little beard - Christ - with a long robe and outstretched hands.

And then I sat up (out of my daydream) with a start because isn't Christ somehow at the core of this one party government? Jesus Christ. Whether you like it or not (and a big chunk of the voting folks of America are happy as hell about it) -it's a Christian country we live in. Merry Christmas.

And this is where I started to pace. And think (or whatever it is I do). Is Christ having a problem with what's going on here in the United States of America right now? I know - he's up in Heaven or somewhere (jokes are easy on this subject too) and besides we're supposed to have a separation of Church and State. But Christ (in some form or other) sits inside of a lot of voting folks out there. Some form of the same Guy I grew up with and there are only so many things he said - surprisingly little, actually - so whatever those few words were - what kind of an effect are they having inside all those people?

Take John Kerry, for instance. Something in them had his number even before he opened his mouth. What did we (what did I) do, with all that highly cultivated, self-actuated 21st Century instinct? I gave him what money I could afford and worked the phones, et cetera, et cetera, talking myself into how much smarter he was than Bush.

And something allowed those red state folks to get a handle on Gore even before he was VP. Great wonk, lousy politician, even Gore agrees with that now - another "inconvenient truth" he talks about in his very effective movie (really worth seeing.) And Dukakis? Don't even try a defense. And Mondale? Please. You can even go back to Adlai Stevenson, but why? What the hell have we been thinking? Was it even thinking/is it thinking? I know, I know. Who can call voting for Bush thinking? But this is coming from a daydream, it doesn't all have to make sense yet. But stay tuned.

Clinton made sense to some of them (remember how he could pull biblical quotes out of his ear and mean it?) I believed he meant it. Quite a few of the red state folks did too; and liked him. I liked him and miss him desperately, though they were right (out there in the heartland) about his infantile sexual needs. They gave him a break, though, around that hypocritical Republican impeachment thing (in fact, he was never more popular) though Monica in the Oval Office was anything but adult behavior and I'll give you that a lot of 'em could never stand his guts...

But let's get back to Christ. All my life I've had a problem with Him. The cross. The way most ministers can turn his name into at least two, sometimes three syllables as if he were some train you could ride on to get through the pearly gates. But the actual Christ? He was trouble, folks. Big trouble. And here my daydream kicked in big. This whole thing about turning the other cheek? You have to think twice about that one. And do unto others? That was Him too. Not a great concept when you woke up on 9/11. Or 9/12. Or any day, or maybe...

How about this?

Nearly a third of a trillion dollars later, what's the analysis of how the war on terror has gone? What if we'd turned that other cheek instead? Uh-oh. Here comes Fox News (a moment of grandeur on my part. Sorry.) But watch the anger and rage roll in from more humble places. Am I that big of a boob? Aren't I aware of how tough a world it is out there? Um...don't you think Christ was kind of aware of it? And Gandhi? And Mandela? And Martin Luther King? Things got tough for them and they didn't seem to blink all that much. Got a few things accomplished too.

But what if we had? Turned the other cheek, I mean. And not blinked either. Not blinked in a real way. Quoted Christ, here and there, being a Christian country and all. Maybe talked about making profound sacrifices in the name of the almost three thousand souls who perished that day. Nothing wrong with going shopping, I'm not saying Bush's plea wasn't a good one. It's just...well... what if we hadn't gone into Afghanistan at the same time that we had gone into all those malls?

And, I know, there's the thing about the Burkas. And the execution of women. And the lack of woman's rights and those beautiful, beautiful ancient Buddhist figures cut into those vast stone mountains - but aren't Buddhists kinda more into the world of the mind and soul, than the one in the rocks? And have you read the papers recently? Heroin cultivation is at an all time high in those parts. And let's not compare the number of Afghani deaths under the Taliban and under us. And we can ignore the Russian adventure there (though we do it at our peril: they didn't have much fun bringing in their form of government - which is now democracy, by the way - and it was just a hop, skip and a jump for their military.)

I'm not even going to discuss Iraq. It doesn't seem fair.

Three billion dollars later, plus that tax relief for the un-poor, and that's pretty much the great Clinton surplus gone. And then some. Maybe there was a better way, Hillary. Sorry, but maybe there was. Maybe there was a more pragmatic way, Cheney.

What if we'd taken a hundred billion and put it into schools all over the Middle East instead of shock and awe? (I know, I know - what about the schools in Ohio? And should the schools be secular or Christian? Hey, this is my daydream; let's keep it simple for the moment.) Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan (we might have named some of the schools after those who died bravely on 9/11.) Maybe even some schools in Iraq - don't forget Saddam was basically a secularist, so maybe those schools would've had to be secular. And there were a lot of woman's rights in Iraq, remember? Reagan touted that fact. At a cost, of course (those secular rights) but I'm getting way too complicated again. Sorry.

Maybe even Iran could have been given a school or two with a plaque out front naming a New York City firemen or two or three who died trying to save people. Maybe that razor thin Iranian election that put a hard liner into office with questionable ballet tabulations (sound familiar?) would've gone the other way; would've gone to the party that was fighting for liberalization and was looking at the US fondly (well they were, until they found out they were the axis of evil.) Who knows where we'd sit now if that election had gone the other way? If a couple of other elections had gone the other way. I'd bank on it being a hell of a lot better five years after that horrible, sad, lost and tragic event downtown.

And how about another hundred billion (of the three billion now gone) for alternative energy? What would it be costing me to drive my car today? What kind of a car would I be driving? What kind of car would I be driving next to? Maybe not so many Hummers.

And we could've pocketed the other hundred billion (or however much more it's going to end up costing) Or put it into those schools in Ohio. Or maybe Florida too. Might affect an upcoming election or two.

But look, Monday morning quarterbacking sucks. And it's unfair. And no one in their right mind would've done this anyway. Except maybe Christ, but he'd have had a hard time getting elected, plus the aforementioned separation of Church and State thing (although He didn't belong to any official church, as far as I remember.)

Let's come back to pragmatism. "Turn the other cheek" is at the core of the red states' faith, and though I guess it's buried pretty deep right now (I have a lot things buried deep in me too,) there's this concept in the Christian faith called the resurrection. Quite a metaphor or...something. Christ buried in a pitch black cave, dead. Then some pretty fascinating things happened - whether they were real, metaphor, improved upon by his disciples, or just plain the truth - something rose when that rock was rolled away.

And for me, when my daydreams rattle me around on a day like the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I find myself forced to think a little about resurrection and about the core of those folks in the red states and that perhaps deep inside of them, something exists that knows far more than I do. Than you do. Than Karl does. Than all of us put together know.

Those of us that went to the best ivy-graced schools that money could buy, those of us completely locked out of the halls of government now, those of us who have watched helplessly as the incredibly powerful Democratic machine of our mothers and fathers melted into a puddle of excuses, equivocation, and bewilderment - maybe we have a thing or two to learn yet.

Of course these are just daydreams (but there are perhaps worse places to start). Nonetheless, I've begun to have this feeling that there is potentially a new alliance to be formed in the face of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfield/Haliburton/whoever-they-come-up-with-next-machine.

We might well be approaching an opportunity to walk into the very heart of their armed-to-the-teeth camp and find a real heart. Maybe millions of hearts. Okay, maybe a couple of hundred thousand. What were the margins of Bush's victories (as reported by the news, let's let skip the muddiness of Ohio and Florida and keep it simple)?

A heart that is perhaps bigger than anything we on the left even remotely understand. Strange to consider looking across the vast gap that now divides this country and view those on the other distant side with respect (how's that for a word?) Even awe. Real awe, that comes from something other than bombs.

But nothing happens that's really interesting if we aren't constantly open to rethinking everything we think we know. Maybe that's what daydreams are for.