Just before 10 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the Washington Metro Orange Line from New Carrollton to Vienna was packed like sardines. Inside the train, shouts of “they just struck the White House” and “the Capitol is gone” confounded the fearful workers and students onboard. Hysteria was ubiquitous and clarity was absent—such as the mania consuming millions in the world today.
Hysteria remains a profound quality of human nature, one that drives the most pragmatic to unfounded judgements. It makes teachers and law enforcement jump to wrongfully assume a high school freshman is a terrorist, and it allows racism to flourish. A fear of the unknown makes enclaves uncomfortable with “the other”—a factor that plays well in the hands of social exclusivity on college campuses.
However, on the global stage, though the repercussions are vaster, hysteria in the face of tragedy is notably lacking. Ethnic cleansing attempts continue to ravage populations subjected to murder, rape and torture. In the early days of this March alone, thousands fled South Sudan for UN-run camps in nearby Uganda.. A few days later, on March 14, a landslide in Addis Ababa killed 113. In Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya alone, more than 20 million face starvation and famine.
While the families of victims surmount agonizing trauma, and the refugees fleeting war torn areas seek succor, the Trump administration has not demonstrated an intent to even acknowledge these realities. At the same time, tensions within the public are exorbitant worldwide as the state-based international order is challenged by non-state actors and cyber threats.
On Friday, March 17, Trump responded, “At least we have something in common, perhaps,” to a question on the National Security Agency’s wiretapping capabilities, while in the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Just before, he quipped, “Immigration is a privilege, not a right.” His comments, as well as those of top members of his administration, offer the same polarizing rhetoric that feeds media frenzy and diverts attention from the long-lasting damage being incurred.
Never in American history has the short-tempered pomposity of a president rendered so many blind to imminent danger. With control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, Republicans are introducing thousands of bills to Congress. One bill defunds Planned Parenthood, which already does not use federal funding for abortions. Another rescinds a rule from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that protects “hibernating bears with their cubs and [the] denning of wolves and their pups,” as described by President and CEO of The Humane Society.
A disillusionment with crisis has left mainstream media consumers unimpassioned despite the lingering threat of legislation amidst a volatile global climate confronted with famine, ideology-rooted wars, legitimate threats of nuclear warfare and more.
Trump is up against a conjured enemy of cosmopolitan globalism—one often the target of the populist challenges to neoliberalism, informed by lessons from the 2008 recession. Populist fervor is rooted in real hardship faced by millions now neglected by a president who does not deliver sustenance through his words.
When the platitude “America First” is offered as an epithet for American grand strategy, the first question that comes to mind is: what exactly constitutes “America?” Born citizens? Naturalized citizens? Green-card holders? Immigrant workers and expatriates? Or is the “America” being put first a strictly geopolitical reference—that the defense of borders suprasses all vested global intersts? For previous presidents, putting America first has meant putting values and the pursuit of liberty and justice in corners throughout the world. Meanwhile, the current President has yet to deliver a cogent strategy.
American confidence in our democratic origins and the Constitution begat the establishment of the United States Agency for International Development, and explains why the country has put soldiers’ lives in danger in the pursuit of democratization in the Middle East and beyond. Putting America first has always included putting our values in global cooperation and diplomacy first too. And yet, with no demonstrated comprehension of these historically-based intricacies of national priorities, Trump named his first iteration of a budget, “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.”
Crystals are formed under immense pressure. If the practice of holding institutions of governance accountable should follow suit, then the next four years will provide a sparkling realization of the current global order. As soon as it is pointed out, pressure irreversibly becomes palpable. Let recent events act as testament.
Yes, emotions have an uncanny clamp on the way that individuals process information. Yes, governments no longer exercise a monopoly over information, nor over violence as the global arms trade reaches its highest point since the Cold War. However, despite a rapidly changing environment that the current generation of young people will soon be tasked with confronting, the current state model may prove resilient.
Fear and anger consumed hordes of innocent civilians who found themselves in the nation’s Capitol during the vicious September 11 attacks. Was their hysteria unwarranted? No. The feelings of none can ever be invalidated— by any authority. However, the attacks of 2001, and the immense media blowback, offer an important lesson on heightened public awareness: between the shouts of false claims that the White House and Capitol were attacked, an instinct guided the fearful train riders back to their homes. Today, we must remember that very same approach of shrewd attentiveness in the face of terror.
Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity sophomore. Her column, “in formation,” runs on alternate Mondays.