Sunday, September 05, 2021


I told you last month that I disagree with Spencer Ackerman's assertion (in a recently published book) that 9/11 led directly to the Donald Trump presidency and the political conflicts of 2021. Today we have a similar argument from The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch. Bunch is wrong, too.

He writes:
America was never the same again after 9/11 because the new “homeland-security state” inevitably criminalized immigration, so that a nation that once promised to welcome the world’s political and economic refugees yearning to breathe free instead spent billions on border walls and turned Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, into a secret police force of deportation.
But we were headed in that direction well before 9/11. We may now look back on Proposition 187, the 1994 anti-immigrant ballot measure in California, as the reason for the anti-GOP backlash that made the Democratic Party dominant in California, but it passed by a 59%-41% vote, and at the national level it was followed by the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, a Republican-sponsored piece of legislation that Bill Clinton signed in 1996, a few months before he faced voters in his reelection bid. As Vox's Dara Lind wrote in 2016:
... the '96 law essentially invented immigration enforcement as we know it today — where deportation is a constant and plausible threat to millions of immigrants.

It was a bundle of provisions with a single goal: to increase penalties on immigrants who had violated US law in some way....

After IIRIRA, deportation from the United States went from a rare phenomenon to a relatively common one. "Before 1996, internal enforcement activities had not played a very significant role in immigration enforcement," sociologists Douglas Massey and Karen Pren have written. "Afterward, these activities rose to levels not seen since the deportation campaigns of the Great Depression."
I'd also point out that while some of Trump's rhetoric during the 2016 campaign echoed post-9/11 Islamophobia, and while he banned immigration from Muslim nations early in his presidency, he mostly forgot about Muslims as his term went on. The Wall remained his most popular applause line. I'd argue that this was pre-9/11 racism -- it's the anti-Hispanic racism I remember from 1970s New York, with Mexicans substituted for Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. (Are we seriously debating whether or not there was bigotry against immigrants and non-whites in America prior to 9/11?)

Bunch writes:
America was never the same again after 9/11 because the blatant lies that were told to U.S. citizens to invent the case for invading Iraq, easily swallowed by the mainstream media in a shameful moment of jingoistic cheerleading, created the petri dish of cynicism and distrust that allowed conspiracy theories to nuture and grow, first about 9/11 itself but eventually about matters as diverse as “the Big Lie” of the 2020 election or COVID-19 vaccines.
So the government didn't lie to us before 9/11? It didn't lie to us about Vietnam? Or Iraq at the time of the first Gulf War?

Bunch adds:
The cable-TV news regime that grew in the wake of 9/11 often fueled misinformation instead of quelling it.
The right-wing infosphere didn't lie before 9/11? So where did those lists of people allegedly murdered by Bill and Hillary Clinton come from in the 1990s? Or the belief that Clinton was involved in drug dealing at an Arkansas airport, or worked on behalf of the Russians when he was a college student? And why did George H.W. Bush imply in the 1988 presidential campaign that Kitty Dukakis had once burned an American flag?

America's reaction to the 9/11 attacks was a contributing factor to America's current political crisis -- but most of it can be blamed on a half-century in which the conservatism of Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, Phyllis Schlafly, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Lee Atwater, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Rupert Murdoch, and Roger Ailes has been the dominant force in American politics. We'd be in the mess we're in now even if 9/11 had never happened.

And the current politcal moment -- in which domestic liberals are described as the greatest threat to the safety and stability of America -- resembles the immediate post-Cold War era much more than it does the years following 9/11. There are right-wingers today who praise the Taliban and despise the Democratic Party. That doesn't sound like a post-9/11 world to me.

UPDATE: Final link fixed.

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