You may not know it, but you’re living in a futuristic science-fiction novel. And that’s a fact. If you were to read about our American world in such a novel, you would be amazed by its strangeness. Since you exist right smack in the middle of it, it seems like normal life (Donald Trump and Ben Carson aside). But make no bones about it, so far this has been a bizarre American century.
Let me start with one of the odder moments we’ve lived through and give it the attention it’s always deserved. If you follow my train of thought and the history it leads us into, I guarantee you that you’ll end up back exactly where we are—in the midst of the strangest presidential campaign in our history.
To get a full-frontal sense of what that means, however, let’s return to late September 2001. I’m sure you remember that moment, just over two weeks after those World Trade Center towers came down and part of the Pentagon was destroyed, leaving a jangled secretary of defense instructing his aides, “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”
I couldn’t resist sticking in that classic Donald Rumsfeld line, but I leave it to others to deal with Saddam Hussein, those fictional weapons of mass destruction, the invasion of Iraq, and everything that’s happened since, including the establishment of a terror “caliphate” by a crew of Islamic extremists brought together in American military prison camps—all of which you wouldn’t believe if it were part of a sci-fi novel. The damn thing would make Planet of the Apes look like outright realism.
Instead, try to recall the screaming headlines that labeled the 9/11 attacks “the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century” or “a new Day of Infamy,” and the attackers “the kamikazes of the 21st century.” Remember the moment when President George W. Bush, bullhorn in hand, stepped onto the rubble at “Ground Zero” in New York, draped his arm around a fireman, and swore payback in the name of the American people, as members of an impromptu crowd shouted out things like “Go get ’em, George!”
“I can hear you! I can hear you!” he responded. “The rest of the world hears you! And the people—and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”
“USA! USA! USA!” chanted the crowd.
Then, on September 20, addressing Congress, Bush added, “Americans have known wars, but for the past 136 years they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941.” By then, he was already talking about “our war on terror.”