After a national trauma, there are a number of signs of "large group" regression. (I will not here go into some of the characteristics of what constitutes a large group; it relates to elements that I have referred to in the past as our tribal nature; see also here.) The panel chair, Vamik Volkan, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and founder of the Center for the Study of the Mind and Human Interaction at the University of Virginia and Emeritus Training and Supervising Analyst of the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute, described 14 major symptoms of large-group regression:
9) Reactivation of a "chosen trauma" whereby a large group unconsciously "chooses" to make a shared mental representation of an event that caused it terrible losses, helplessness, humiliation, and victimization....Slobodan Milosevic exemplified this phenomenon in his reactivation of the shared memory of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, in which the Serbian hero, Prince Lazar, was killed. [Emphasis added-SW]
There has been a great deal already written about the difficult to understand decision of the Obama administration to bring Khalid Sheik Mohamed to New York for trial within eyesight of the hole in the ground where the World Trade Center once stood. Andy McCarthy has made the point that by bringing KSM to trial in a criminal proceeding, the Obama administration can effectively put the Bush administration on trial without taking respoonsibility for their behavior. The Bush administration's dirty laundry (renditions, secret prisons, enhanced interrogations) can be put on trial, names can be leaked via discovery, and a host of untoward events can cause great pleasure to the left and great distress to those who were involved in protecting us for the last 8 years.
James Taranto, quoted by Glenn Reynolds notes:
“You have to wonder if the Obama administration and its supporters bothered to think through the implications of their decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohamed and four other enemy combatants as civilians. An immediate effect, and one that will only be strengthened by an actual trial or trials, is to bring 9/11 back into the public consciousness. That can’t be good for President Obama. . . . When appellate courts decide questions of law, they set precedents for future cases. If they make allowances for the exigencies of the war on terror in order to uphold convictions of KSM and his associates, it could end up diminishing the rights of ordinary criminal defendants. That’s why the smart civil-libertarian position is to oppose trying terrorists as civilians.”
It would not be unusual for the unintended consequences to far outweigh the intended. If the administration believes this will simply be a showcase for the wonders of our legal system and that the political effects will be helpful to them or at least minimally harmful, they may end up surprised.
However, whatever the conscious motivations of Obama and Holder, et al, the unconscious ramifications may be even more powerful, more long lasting, and deeper.
John Opie pointedly notes the juxtaposition of trial and empty space: [Emphasis mine-SW]
I've commented on the absurd situation surrounding the rebuilding of the WTC before.
And yes, it was a comment to a post by Bret Stephens at the WSJ.
He's remindedonce again that there has been, functionally, no progress there, and that indeed there are multiple ways of viewing the WTC at this point in time.
It's where what effectively amounts to a show trial is now scheduled to be turned into a media circus.
It's where literally thousands of people are waiting for closure and rebirth.
It's also where petty scrabbling and pathetically disgusting incompetence has led to no reconstruction.
... what I really want to talk about here is the WTC as metaphor: a metaphor for how screwed up things really are.
After eight years in which the views and interests of, inter alia, the Port Authority, NYPD, MTA and EPA, the several governors of New York and New Jersey, lease-holder Larry Silverstein, various star architects, the insurance companies, contractors, unions and lawyers, the families of the bereaved, their self-appointed spokespersons, the residents of lower Manhattan and, yes, even the fish of the Hudson river have all been duly consulted and considered, this is what we've got: a site of mourning turned into a symbol of defiance turned into a metaphor of American incompetence—of things not going forward. It is, in short, the story of our decade.
Think of it this way: as long as the WTC is not rebuilt, things will not get better. There is a malaise here, a sickness unto the heart, the ritual self-loathing of what once was the great liberal tradition in the United States, poisoned by greed and corruption from within and deliberately targeted for subversion from outside.
Rebuild the WTC. Rebuild it now.
The empty hole where the WTC used to stand is a symbol of American impotence. 9/11 was traumatic not just because of the terrible personal losses of those who lost loved ones that day. What makes a loss traumatic is the helpless rage evoked by the victimization. America was rendered helpless on that terrible day and all who watched the planes fly repeatedly into the twin towers and saw those poor doomed souls falling to their deaths, who watched those towers come down, felt the helplessness deep in their emotional cores. When George W. Bush, in his finest moment, stood on top of the pile of rubble and announced we were coming, it was a necessary turn from mourning to action, psychologically necessary even if the action taken was poorly executed.
We have now returned to a pre-9/11 passivity in our National Defense. (I am not here discussing any actual details of how our defensive posture may have changed or whether or not our military is carrying the fight to our enemies but of the atmospherics, the zeitgeist, which is much more significant at the moment.) By returning KSM to the scene of the crime (rather than dealing with him in a military tribunal that would mete out justice, an active position, versus the enforced passivity of the legal forum) the Obama administration is reawakening the trauma. When the vast majority of people are opposed to treating KSM with the kids gloves required in our legal system and their wishes are ignored, the sense of powerlessness returns. Just as the abused child is secondarily traumatized by the parents refusal to listen, those who were traumatized by 9/11 can be re-traumatized by our "parents" refusal to listen. But where a traumatized child is forced to remain passive, the once traumatized American people may well not remain passive. The Tea party movement is an expression of the adaptive defense of turning passive into active. The movement can only grow with each new insult.
Obama and those who share his pre-9/11 mindset (of a wishful fantasy world) would continue to reinforce the trauma and maintain us as a humiliated, helplessly people. They have unconsciously "chosen the trauma" and moved well down the pathway to a regressed state. There is a connection between the still vacant hole in the ground and a President who appears to be constitutionally incapable of exercising leadership and taking action. (Impotence is not a problem in the Academy or the Senate but in the Executive it is disastrous.) We are facing a genuine test of whether our society will continue to regress or if the people, that amorphous mass who define the zeitgeist in America, can refuse to allow the pervasive state of helplessness and trauma to persist.
Addendum: David Brooks, who is paid to have a sense of the zeitgeist, is in tune with my post today; note the tone of resignation and near despair as he compares our sense of the future and China's sense of its future:
The anxiety in America is caused by the vague sense that they have what we’re supposed to have. It’s not the per capita income, which the Chinese may never have at our level. It’s the sense of living with baubles just out of reach. It’s the faith in the future, which is actually more important.
China, where President Obama is visiting, invites a certain sort of reverie. It is natural, looking over the construction cranes, to think about the flow of history over decades, not just day to day. And it becomes obvious by comparison just how far the U.S. has drifted from its normal future-centered orientation and how much this rankles.
The U.S. now has an economy shifted too much toward consumption, debt and imports and too little toward production, innovation and exports. It now has a mounting federal debt that creates present indulgence and future hardship.
Americans could once be confident that their country would grow more productive because each generation was more skilled than the last. That’s no longer true. The political system now groans to pass anything easy — tax cuts and expanding health care coverage — and is incapable of passing anything hard — spending restraint, health care cost control.
The standard thing these days is for Americans to scold each other for our profligacy, to urge fiscal Puritanism. But it’s not clear Americans have ever really been self-disciplined. Instead, Americans probably postponed gratification because they thought the future was a big rock-candy mountain, and if they were stealing from that, they were robbing themselves of something stupendous.
It would be nice if some leader could induce the country to salivate for the future again. That would mean connecting discrete policies — education, technological innovation, funding for basic research — into a single long-term narrative. It would mean creating regional strategies, because innovation happens in geographic clusters, not at the national level. It would mean finding ways to tamp down consumption and reward production. The most pragmatic guide for that remains Michael Porter’s essay in the Oct. 30, 2008, issue of Business Week.
As the financial crises ease, it would be nice if Americans would once again start looking to the horizon.