The politics of trauma  

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Another beast entirely

The politics of fear is based around ideas such as these: that homosexuals are out to recruit your children, that God will punish the nation for its sins, that the family is broken when women have power, that membership in the United Nations demands the surrender of our nation's sovereignty. In short, the politics of fear exploits the trepidation innate in humans when facing change of any kind, and tweaks it to a twitchy pitch in times of great social change.

The politics of trauma is another beast entirely, based as it is, not on fear of the unknown, but the exploitation of something atrocious that has already occurred, the fear that it will happen again, and the psychological toxins produced by experiencing the atrocity.

In Northern New Jersey, I'll grant you, the trauma is perhaps more acute than it is, say, in Des Moines. With half of the state being a suburb of Manhattan, the many who were spared the loss of loved ones themselves on September 11, 2001, all seem to know someone who lost someone on the day the towers came down. (Multiply by 10 or 20 or 100 the 700 New Jerseyans who perished in the attack, and you'll arrive at an approximation of the number of lives directly affected by those losses.)

It would be wrong, however, to assume that the trauma resulting from the 9-11 attacks begins and ends in the communities that hosted the fallen--Manhattan and its surroundings; Arlington, Virginia, and its environs, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Indeed, evidence of a traumatized nation is everywhere, not least of all in our politics; "outbursts of anger or irritability," "difficulty concentrating," and "becoming overly startled when someone surprises you," are all listed on WebMD, America's foremost medical authority, as symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The incoherent rage that has supplanted political discourse, the inability to focus on such legitimate and crucial issues as the economy or foreign policy or health care, and the shock, shock (!) felt with any shift from the anticipated script (Kerry Wins Debate) could be said to add up to a kind of national PTSD.

And why not? It wasn't just the horror of the attacks that left us traumatized as a nation; it is the hole it pierced in our vision of ourselves as nation not just indivisible, but invincible, as well. No distant memory, 9-11 speaks to the moment, just a breath ago, when America became a land of mere mortals, proven vulnerable to despair drawn by heinous acts committed by men from a culture to which ours was obviously, in our own estimation, far superior. They accomplished their gruesome goals not through strength of numbers or technological prowess, but by exploiting weaknesses in our own systems--weaknesses supported by the arrogance of a nation set on believing that it couldn't happen here.

Again and again and again (next page)

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