Just days after the 9/11 attacks, an editorial ran in this space written from the perspective of 2011, or a decade hence. It predicted the many ways that America would transform itself.
Did this time capsule of forecasts get it right? Well, let’s just say that the would-be prophets of late 2001 can now both crow and eat crow.
The editorial’s crystal ball was a device mainly to offer tips for action and buck up morale when hope and a road map were in short supply. Still, it would be helpful now to put on a Rip van Winkle hat and look back at a decade of change – and score the accuracy of all that prognosticating.
First, here is what the editorial did not get right:
The crisis failed to force Americans to adopt civility in political discourse or curb the blame game over security. They did not fully embrace US Muslims. Except regarding foreign wars and disasters, Americans read less foreign news. The media, notably talk shows, continue to divide, not unite. Digital games are more violent, not less. Washington has largely failed to address Arab grievances, such as the lack of a Palestinian state. The former World Trade Center site is still not rebuilt.
Despite all that, the predictions that did come true perhaps matter most. America has shown resilience in reforming its security agencies to roll back Al Qaeda and it found a wide consensus on balancing civil liberties with certain restrictions on freedom. Its Muslim community has tried to check home-grown terrorists.
Through two land wars, Americans learned they must redefine their role in the world and act less unilaterally. Rather than force Arabs to change, they’ve offered them help to change themselves. Most of all, the 9/11 attacks compelled Americans to better appreciate the ideals of liberty and openness. They also embraced those who safeguard the United States, especially war-torn soldiers. A new generation (the “Millennials”) expressed a commitment to service and a realistic patriotism.
While polls show that a large majority of Americans believe their ideals make their national character unique in the world, now they are also more afraid of losing them. That concern hints at the continuing need to realize that US security does not just lie in the absence of terrorist danger, but in affirming what is right about the US – and being grateful for it.
Such a shift would be the best predictor of the next 10 years.