It could have been different.
Imagine. On the morning of September 12, 2001, as the nation reels from the previous day's events, President Bush makes a televised statement. Instead of reacting like a cornered caveman bent on revenge, the President chooses to use the chaos of 9/11 as a wellspring of opportunity:
"Fellow Americans, the horror and tragedy of yesterday's unconscionable acts might lead us to seek vengeance on those responsible. I shared that initial reaction. Yet after a night of intense reflection, I concluded that it is within our power to choose a better and wiser course of action.
"I understand many will have difficulty accepting my proposals. I too had to wrestle my demons that cried out for more blood to be poured into the oceans created by generations of hatred. In short, we shall not defeat our enemies on the battlefield, but defeat them we will. We shall not sacrifice more lives, but instead we will transform lives.
"We will accomplish both these goals through articulating and realizing a renewed vision for our nation. When we have accomplished this, we will truly be the city upon the hill our founders believed we could be. In other words, our republic, our grand experiment in pluralism and democracy will, in the course of defeating the ambitions of those who would destroy us, also thwart history's odds.
"We will not be another empire reduced to ashes and artifacts buried under the rubble of ruined cities. We will not be source material for future generations of historians and anthropologists puzzling over our decay. We will rise from our own ashes, as did the legendary phoenix, renewed and ready for the future.
"In order to meet the challenges before us, we will begin by looking to the past. In 1796 Washington's farewell address appeared in a Philadelphia paper. These days the so-called isolationism of that address may be considered politically and technologically outdated. But I ask you to pause and consider the bitter fruits of our foreign entanglements.
"Let us examine ourselves with a brutal honesty we find easier to avoid. Our consumption of oil, and indeed our consumption of other natural resources, is vastly disproportionate to our population numbers. This is an indisputable fact. Some argue, and I have come to believe justifiably, that while our engagement with oil-producing countries may not be the cause of yesterday's despicable actions, it is certainly a contributing factor.
"Therefore, within the next decade we will completely free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil. Within the next five years we will cut our consumption by 50 percent or more. We will meet this goal not by looking for domestic sources, but by taking several steps designed to move us away from our pathological and self-destructive culture of consumption to one based on mutual aid and responsibility.
"First, we will build a national system of mass transportation to link every city to every town and hamlet. Mobility has always been a cornerstone of our nation and it will remain so. But our new mobility will run not on foreign oil but on American will, ingenuity and technological prowess.
"The vast pool of talent and resources currently dedicated to keeping oil pipelines flowing will henceforth focus on alternative fuels technology. I expect what we already know about the viability of alternative fuel and energy sources, coupled with our new determination and commitment, will result in a new generation of Americans nurtured on the notion of sustainability rather than the greed of Gomorrah.
"Second, we will bring our troops home. Patriotism will never again be used as the vehicle for the deaths of this nation's children nor the children of other nations. We shall not take up arms against any nation, neither shall we teach war. To help instill a sense of purpose, continuity and social responsibility, all our young citizens will be obligated to perform a year of national service when they reach 18. At the end of that year they will have the opportunity to attend two years of college at no cost. If they choose to continue their education, no-interest loans will be available.
"Third, there will be no homeless on the streets of America. Training programs, transitional or permanent housing, physical and mental health initiatives will provide each and every homeless person the opportunity to join in our renewed vision of America's promise.
"Fourth, all our elderly will be awarded care, dignity and honor. We will no longer tolerate a system whereby some of our parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents are afforded the comfort and security of daily meals, luxurious surroundings and dependable health care, while others wither away unnoticed and untended in forgotten urban slums.
"Fifth, the education of our children is critical to the survival of our country. Without an educated, caring, creative citizenry committed to our shared ideals, we will suffer the fate of nations relegated to history's compost. In order to ensure a brighter future for all our children, a massive, cooperative effort between federal and state governments will restructure the distribution of education funds. No district in America will be awarded more tax dollars per student than any other district. No classroom in America will hold more than 15 students. All students will study the arts. Physical education and foreign language will be incorporated, on a daily basis, into the curriculum.
"Our commitment to the next generation: you will be the best generation. You will be wiser, more compassionate, creative and resilient than your progenitors. You will be the first generation safe in the knowledge that your actions toward other people and nations are guided by the principle of peaceful partnership with all and dominance over none.
"We will accomplish these goals, and more, through a profound transformation in national policy, priorities and personnel. The billions of dollars now budgeted for defense spending will be shifted to programs for people. The Department of Defense will retool and refocus for its new mission: homeland defense. Missions on foreign soil will end. This nation will only use its military might to defend itself and protect its borders.
"Further, I will instruct the Pentagon and the various branches of the military to begin to disentangle the Byzantine military, industrial and corporate complex that designs, manufactures and sells arms across the globe.
"I conclude with an invitation and a promise to all people of good will. The community of nations must learn to live together or we shall surely perish together. No longer will the best minds of our generation, and future generations, be seduced and shattered by a culture of Babylon or wasted through war.
"There is no time left for this nation's, indeed this planet's, people to hold on to the archaic and barbaric belief that hostile actions, or responses based on vengeance, can bring us closer to the good. I especially ask those who lost loved ones yesterday to join with me in working for an American future that joins Thomas Jefferson's best hopes to Martin Luther King's passionate dream. God bless us all. Good night."
OK. So none of us is likely to hear this speech. But consider, just for a minute or two, how it could be different if we stopped believing the worst about ourselves and each other and put our trust in the possibilities. Imagine.