Monday, September 5, 2011

After 9/11 America is a Different Place

On September 11th 2001 I was making a presentation to the Economic Club of Milan, Italy when a member of our office's admin staff entered and said in Italian "they blew up New York". My wife was at that time working in Mid-town Manhattan and so I was of course worried amid all the other pain. I can remember driving from Milan to Verona listening to Italian news radio with the world "Crollato" or crushed repeated over and over again. The night of September 11th I was in Verona for a business dinner and the owner of the Trattoria picked up the tab for his "Bresciano-American" friend (that would be me).

The next six months were dreadful. We lived in Princeton, NJ so our train station was covered with those printed signs "lost my husband, lost my wife". It was a time of great sadness and great loss. Americans reacted sometimes well and sometimes not but the nation was changed mostly for the worst.

America pre 9/11 was astride the world as a super power America after 9/11 was something else. In 2011 America remains engulfed in an economic and mental depression. I think that once a nation has been in economic collapse for three years it is safe to call it a Depression. We are in this collapse because like empires before us we spent our riches on global adventures and bread an circuses for our people to keep them mollified in the face of pain and despair.

In the end America is a different place.

Conservatives like to hearken back to Ronald Reagan, Liberals to JFK and FDR but both of those Americas no longer exist. The America of FDR and JFK was young vibrant place where anything was possible and where a generation- the greatest one- made sacrifices to do great things like Medicare, Civil Rights and putting a man on the moon. Reagan's America too no longer exists. The factory towns of the Midwest are now empty. The sunbelt was built on false money and false prosperity and the reserve of good will and frugality that existed in Reagan's time has been spent.

So what are we to do?

I recently was in Sao Paulo Brazil and I saw something. In that vibrant city there are many cafe's as their are in Italy but now smoking is not permitted. So a man stood outside the cafe with a Formica board around his neck with two ashtrays. He flipped up the board and invited the men drinking coffee to come and have a cigarette with their coffee on his board- he then asked for a Real tip. I thought- what a great idea- the fact is that America needs to do the same.

We as a nation need to realize that our ideas matter. We need to also understand that unless we change the conversation and subvert the rules (the way the man in Sao Paulo did with his board) we are doomed to stasis and weakness. The future seems to have moved to Beijing and Sao Paulo but are their ideas better?

It is time to forget 9/11 and to remember why July 4th 1776 is a holiday and September 11th 2001 is not.