By the time I’ve had my coffee and gotten around to publishing this in the morning, your social media will already be awash in a sea of jingoism and glittery gifs. People will be asking, “where were you on September 11th, 2001?”
And everyone will be furiously pounding at their keyboards, answering the same question they’ve been answering for nineteen years, now. They’ll reminisce, as they always have, about every last excruciating detail of where they were and what they were doing when enemies of the United States brazenly attacked us, when 2,997 innocent American lives were lost in the initial attacks and immediate aftermath.
Amidst the waving flags and crying bald eagles and old country songs, they’ll share pictures of US troops rushing to war. They’ll share stories about US special forces storming Afghanistan, though our attackers were almost entirely Saudi. It was my generation’s “sleeping giant” moment, and we were willing to light trillions of dollars on fire, send our sons and daughters to war for decades, and blast our way through every mud hut in the dusty Middle East until at last our thirst for vengeance had been slaked by oceans of foreign blood and oil. And of course, we dutifully observe a moment of silence for all the sacrifices made as a result.
We ask, and we answer, every year. But we only ever ask about September 11th. We never ask, “Where were you when Russia attacked us?”
Oh, indeed, they have. And their death toll far exceeds that of the September 11 attacks. Between Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Trump’s connections with Russia, the entire apparatus of the US Intelligence system, and the (Republican-led) Senate Intelligence Committee, we have a clear picture of Russia’s assault:
We found out Trump had been compromised by Russia as early as the 1980s. We found out that Russians successfully breached the US election systems in 2016. We found out that Russian intelligence operatives “sought to influence the 2016 US presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin. We learned that Russian intelligence had weaponized social media against us through massive disinformation campaigns intended to mislead and divide us. On August 18, 2020, the committee released the fifth volume of their findings, which detailed across 966 pages the extensive connections between Russian operatives and Trump campaign officials throughout 2016. Notably, the Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was working with Konstatin Kilimnik, a known Russian intelligence officer.
Kilimnik, we learned, was directly involved in hacking Democratic National Committee emails, handing it off to Wikileaks (itself a tool of Russian intelligence). The report concluded that Manafort’s collaboration with Russian intelligence “represented a grave counterintelligence threat.” Finally, we also learned that as the committee was investigating all of these things, Trump’s White House administration “significantly hampered” the investigation.
Our 2016 election was neither free, nor fair, having been compromised by our longtime adversary to the East. Perhaps Russia’s meddling wouldn’t have mattered, or perhaps it did. But they meddled hard in our sovereign election, and their favored candidate, a man so in debt to Russian oligarchs that he’d dance for them like a grotesque, orange marionette, won.
He didn’t want to win, of course. Ever the grifter, he merely wanted to make off with the campaign finances. All the Russians truly needed was for him to shift the GOP platform into a more Russia-friendly position (which it did, due to Team Trump’s intensive lobbying and mysteriously swelling grassroots support). But he won, and he had zero idea what to do. His incompetence was matched only by his pettiness, and his administration became a revolving door of criminals, goons, and his own family (mutually inclusive, of course).
A few small decisions of his slipped under the radar in 2018. Quietly, he dismantled the highly successful system of pandemic defense and response mechanisms protecting the US from outbreaks of disease anywhere around the world. The Obama administration had perfected this system — and not only did it work flawlessly during the recent Ebola outbreak, but helped contain it at the source, as well. The Obama administration was so proud of this, they used a mock viral pandemic as a “training scenario” to show Trump’s transition team the ropes of how the US government works.
Our 45th President so loathed his predecessor, he dismantled the whole thing. Even the Pandemic Playbook went into the shredder. Gone was our CDC liason in Beijing, who could have given us direct and timely information independent of the Chinese government or WHO. Gone was our pandemic response team, at home and abroad. Gone were many of the scientists, because the Trump administration oozed toxic anti-intellectualism, and cut funding to prove it.
Through all this, Russia has gotten away with much. It still holds Crimea. It holds Syria. It’s still dealing, unchecked, with Iran and North Korea. And the only superpower perhaps capable of checking Russia’s transgressions, the United States, is now so crippled by the ineptitude of its leadership and the angry squabbling of its citizens (who have learned to hate each other more than any injustice around the world), that Russia is clear and free to do as it pleases.
Thus was the stage, when news of COVID-19 reached the president’s desk. Where were you? The president moved quickly to downplay it. We have audio recordings of him clearly admitting that though he understands it to be a serious and deadly thing, he wants to downplay it, for fear that it could make him look bad. And so he golfed, and told people not to wear masks, and blamed China, and told us, “I don’t accept responsibility.”
Where were you? Where were you, when you heard people say in 2016 that Trump’s presidency would result in dead Americans? Were you voting for him, anyway? Where were you, when he was impeached, and our Senators abdicated their responsibility to their constituents’ well-being, choosing party over country and refusing to convict? Were you calling it a hoax on Facebook?
Because by the time I publish this in the morning of September 11, 2020, over 200,000 Americans will be dead from COVID-19, and rapidly counting. That’s almost 67 September 11 attacks. That’s one-and-a-half September 11 attacks every month since Russia’s favored, supported, bought-and-paid-for candidate took (and immediately violated) the Oath of Office.
We solemnly vow every year, “Never forget.” But we have forgotten. We’ve forgotten to come together as Americans to fight for America. We’ve forgotten to stand up to attacks. We take our moments of silence in somber remembrance, but we forget just how loud we were in the aftermath.
We already know that Russia is interfering in our elections again, this year. Their favored candidate is using the full force and power of the US government to steal the election through voter suppression. The US Post Office is being hamstrung so as to make voting by mail less appealing. Polling locations have been shut down, particularly in areas with economically disadvantaged people, and people of color. The stark choice many voters will face this November is between risking the virus by waiting in long lines in person, or risking finding a secure means of voting remotely.
What we need this year is not a moment of silence. With our very system of democracy under attack, with hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans dying, we need to come together and clearly choose America over our adversaries — without and within.
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
— Elie Wiesel