A More Perfect Union

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Twin Towers II Looking Up

At a time when the First Amendment is being invoked by one group of Americans to disparage the character of another group of Americans, it is worth remembering that before the Amendments to the Constitution came the Constitution itself. And the Preamble, with its overarching goal of forming “a more perfect Union,” came before all. The “mosque” controversy is a prime example of how our society seems to have abandoned the quest for a meeting of minds, let alone a joining of hearts, in favor of bashing the opposition into submission. If we do not arrest that trend, the outlook for the Divided States of America is not bright.

The Twin Towers Alliance has one overriding goal – new Twin Towers – so we have stayed away from the issue of the mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan. Our efforts are not based on retrograde wishful thinking, but on the conviction we have expressed in the companion essay “The Pursuit of Happiness.”

Our purpose here is not to get entangled in the debate, but — as the leading voice promoting the World Trade Center most Americans prefer — to connect some dots. The mosque dispute is a prime example of a national communications breakdown that just keeps getting worse. It is clear to those who are not part of the “Park 51” Center shouting match that what motivates most of those lining up on both sides is concern for our country.

That is true of so much of the rancor that passes for dialogue and debate these days. Bad habits are holding us back and keeping us down. We are rapidly losing the wiring and sensors needed to exchange critical information in a mature manner.

Of course Freedom of Religion is central to who we are. And so is Freedom of Speech. The provenance of the Islamic center is murky. The questions regarding its financing are prudent. And any building near enough to the Trade Center to have its roof bashed in on 9/11 is in the penumbra of Ground Zero. So there is a lot to work out if we can get beyond the name-calling.

As Governor Paterson pointed out, “there are always bigoted people who oppose things.” They are the loudest voices on both sides and are being used as an excuse to sidestep some very sound objections and concerns. But we’re better than that.

Dismissing valid criticism instead of addressing it respectfully mirrors what opponents of rebuilding the Twin Towers have done with obvious success for years. As many have been pointing out, if the Twin Towers were again reigning over the WTC site, the Islamic Community Center wouldn’t be an issue. The same was true of the KSM trials. The perspective is off.

Michael Koy of New Brunswick, New Jersey, a long-time supporter of rebuilding the Twin Towers, wrote early in the week to say:

“I see that the Twin Towers Alliance has wisely stayed out of the mosque controversy. What’s really dismaying about this issue is that the Twin Towers would have been rebuilt already if people had only put half as much energy into pushing for the towers’ return as they are in trying to prevent the construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero. Where are people’s priorities? Don’t they realize that it is much more important symbolically to rebuild the Twin Towers than it is to prevent the construction of an Islamic center, which, by the way, is Constitutionally protected? I just don’t get it.”

If half as much energy had gone into fighting for the Twin Towers they would be open today and this controversy would be moot. The perception that extremists around the world would consider it a “victory mosque” would lose all credibility. But the reason why people have never mobilized to rescue the Twin Towers from an undeserved and unnecessary fate isn’t because they don’t care, but because they never thought they had a chance.

Powerful individuals with a personal agenda mischaracterized the WTC as private property, fanned fears that rebuilding the Towers would be provocative, dishonestly portrayed 9/11 families as opposed to new Twin Towers, and misrepresented supporters of rebuilding as out of the mainstream, when nothing could be further from the truth.

So why should anyone be surprised, nine years later, that as the Governor also noted, “the wounds of 9/11 haven’t healed?” They never will as long as we are stuck with a defective project at Ground Zero, one that cannot be justified as more feasible, affordable, or popular than the “Twin Towers II” alternative, but is just the by-product of raw political maneuvering.

If Governor Paterson wants to heal the wounds of 9/11, he will give a superior option an honest look. Then, if he still prefers the current plan, he will tell the American people why. That is the standard that all our officials should apply to their own positions on rebuilding the WTC.

As of now, they have a losing proposition that they can only build because of access to the public’s deep pockets. This is probably our last chance to get it right. The TTA “Plan to Save the World Trade Center” clearly shows how doable and rewarding an option is still before us.

Otherwise, looking at their skyline will be like looking at a person with a big scar across his face, while trying to pretend it isn’t there. It may be “healed,” but it is still unsightly. The current WTC regime has vast public resources to attract tenants to whatever is built, but to pretend that what they are building will honestly heal us, when they are in fact scarring us, is a lie that the public will never believe.

Which brings us back to the Constitution. Our highest calling as Americans is to strive to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

We can do none of those things if we talk at each other or down to each other instead of with each other. Sadly, there is no one of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s caliber on the scene today to remind us that we are all entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.

Facts are out the window in America, because as soon as one side manages to brand a position as their own that automatically disqualifies it from being considered by the other side, no matter how beneficial it would be and how badly we all need a real solution.

This is just the latest example of that. No doubt many of the Republican candidates who are taking stands against the way this issue is being handled are sincere. There is also no doubt that some are using it for political advantage. But to dismiss it as a Republican issue when upwards of 60% of the city, the state, and the country are opposed is dishonest.

Assuming that the objections of so many Americans are rooted in ignorance and bigotry, instead of looking into and addressing their concerns, is as bigoted and reflexive as it gets. We have stopped learning from each other. There is no dialogue going on in this country – just vitriol and evasion. That is childish. That is a recipe for disaster.

We are getting more and more unwilling to listen to each other. One side is always right and the other side is always wrong. The mean-spirited playground atmosphere in the country today is reminiscent of children who listen to their parents talking about issues at the dinner table and then the next day at school mindlessly parrot and defend their positions.

America entered the “Your Mother Wears Army Boots” era in the 1990s, fueled by the 24-hour radio and cable talk shows on the left and the right and we have been indulging ourselves in a national food-fight ever since. Some call it entertainment, but entertainment at the expense of other Americans isn’t just un-American – it is anti-American.

The words and ideas can be right and the spirit can still be all wrong. We wouldn’t be so quick to put each other down with snide, caustic, know-it-all remarks and smirks if we understood how much damage it is doing to the country.

The highest common denominator uniting all Americans is that we all want the Founders’ experiment in democracy to succeed. Unfortunately we are poisoning our common well, blasé to the fact that their noble experiment could fail through our mindless and reckless behavior.

The mosque issue is not about the First Amendment vs. The Families – civil rights vs. hurt feelings. It is about our survival as a nation. That is what is clearly driving the concerns of both sides of the issue, which is why they are so strident.

But what is getting lost is that the dialogue matters more than the subject. “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” isn’t a platitude, it is a solemn warning.

At the end of his long, sacrificial career, George Washington, a man of few words and a supremely stoic nature, wrote out a 6,500-word “Farewell Address to the People of the United States” that is full of warnings that are anything but idle.

Having endured and triumphed over tumultuous and perilous times, when “the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging…” he hoped to leave us “an instructive example in our annals.”

His “apprehension of danger” was based on his experience. He offered “the disinterested warnings of a parting friend” for our “solemn contemplation” and “frequent review” — because he considered them “all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people.”

Above all he urged us to understand that the “unity of Government, which constitutes you one people… is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquillity at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize.” Finally he warned:

“But as it is easy to foresee, that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion, that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.”

The 18th-century language can’t obscure how very much he wanted to convince us to take his words to heart so that we could hold onto the nation they won for us. We can be divided in our opinions but not in our respect for each others’ viewpoint, because we have something to offer each other that we cannot do without. As G.K. Chesterton explained, “The thing I hate about an argument is that it always interrupts a discussion.”

It is not too late to follow George Washington’s advice by resurrecting the Spirit of September 12th and by keeping it alive as the standard we measure ourselves, not each other, against. There is one 9/11 Family. We need to remember how we cared for each other after the attacks, how we looked through different eyes, and were so much more willing to forgive.

We didn’t need Glenn Beck to tell us how much 9/12 means to us, but it would be silly to reject the concept just because he has promoted it. We are cheating our country when we write off what others have to offer. Sometimes Glenn Beck has something important to say. And sometimes Keith Olbermann has an opinion that deserves consideration. After all, they are both big supporters of rebuilding the Twin Towers…

We still have a chance to become what our Founding Fathers imagined we could be — bigger and more noble with every challenge mastered and passion tamed. And we still have a chance to exchange a giant gravestone at Ground Zero for the two incomparable towers that were such an unparalleled symbol of brotherhood and peaceful co-existence and could be again.

Then things will really start looking up — from sea to shining sea.

(c) 2010 The Twin Towers Alliance | May Be Reprinted Without Permission

“Twin Towers II” Image Courtesy of Alexander Davison


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