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Could Boston Tragedy Heal America?

Memorial site in Boston (Don Emmert/Getty Images)
Memorial site in Boston (Don Emmert/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Though we are still waiting for answers regarding the culprit and motives behind the Boston Marathon attack, one thing we do know is this: It is impossible to avoid comparisons of this tragedy to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.


There were instant similarities — most notably the shock, followed immediately by the increased security nationwide, and the instant desire for all of us to try to get in touch with anyone we know and love in Boston to make sure he or she is OK. As Bostonites used Twitter and Facebook to send messages letting loved ones know they were OK, I couldn't help thinking of one glaring difference between how the two tragedies unfolded, besides the scope of the casualties involved. Social media did not exist in 2001. As someone who lived in downtown New York City during Sept. 11, I couldn't help wondering how different that day might have been had it been easier for those dealing with one of the most terrifying days America has ever endured to receive messages of love and hope from friends, family and even strangers from afar.

But while, like everyone else, I mourn with those facing unspeakable loss in Boston today and am grateful that the casualties were not greater, I am hopeful that the tragedy will invoke one more similarity to Sept. 11.


I hope the incident brings America together.

Since President Obama's election, America has arguably faced its greatest division since the Civil War. Though critics of the president like to blame him for this, the truth is, there is plenty of blame to go around. There are those who are angry that our country elected a liberal. There are those who are angry that the president isn't liberal enough. There are those who are angry that our country elected a black man. There are those who are angry that our country elected a man who is of mixed race and that more and more Americans are being born each day who are of mixed race as well. There are those who are angry that gay Americans have become a full part of the fabric of mainstream America.

There are those who are angry that we are increasingly becoming a brown country — full of black men marrying white women, black women marrying white men, black men marrying Latino men and Asian women marrying black women — and that all of these various couples are having and raising children who will grow up considering their families to be part of the new American dream.

The anger provoked by this new America that President Obama's election and re-election have ushered in has at times paralyzed our country. Issues that would have been resolved among the president and members of Congress at a private dinner or on a golf course, as was done decades ago, have turned into a seemingly never-ending game of political chicken — only the losers are the American people.


Besides a slideshow chronicling the number of racist comments made by conservative leaders following the president's election, the greatest proof of our divided nation came courtesy of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who said the following in 2010: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." As we now know, he and his cohorts didn't achieve their goal. But they have achieved something, which is ensuring that any policy accomplishments of the president are achieved with the greatest amount of pain possible to his administration and the political process, which is now perceived to be toxic by definition.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Lest we all forget, if America ever had an excuse to be a nation divided, it was after George W. Bush became president even though a majority of American citizens did not vote for him. The Supreme Court did something that flew in the very face of democracy as we know it: It usurped the power of American citizens to decide our own elections. This set the stage for members of the House and the Senate to have the most legitimate reason possible not to work with the man: His presidency was not legitimate.


And yet after Sept. 11, that no longer mattered.

Even the most liberal member of Congress who didn't agree with President Bush on a single policy issue set aside those differences, at least publicly, in Sept. 11's immediate aftermath to ensure that our country presented a united front to the outside world. The entire tone of our political discourse shifted, at least briefly, and finding small areas of agreement became more important than bickering over large areas of disagreement.


Although not every policy decision that came out of this era is something to be proud of (such as the Iraq War), the way we treated one another is something to be proud of. It reminded me a bit of how, when growing up, we are often taught that you can pick on family members, but if anyone else does, you have to be ready to stand together as a family. Sept. 11 forced us to finally do that.

Here's hoping that if any good comes from the tragic events in Boston, it will help us do that, too. 


Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

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