America the Traumatized: How 13 Events of the Decade Made Us the PTSD Nation
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We saw a president resign in disgrace, and the taking of American hostages by an Islamic state. Yet, despite the upheaval, at the passing of each crisis we managed to stuff the genie back in the bottle -- or so we thought. Our belief in our democracy somehow prevailed in our thinking. Civil rights, centuries too late, were eventually won through the legislative process. The Vietnam War ended. Women emerged from the confines of the home. The assassination of one president and the resignation of another were succeeded by orderly transfers of power.
History being history, the story of the millennial decade is, in many ways, about the very same things that characterized the decades that ushered it in: racial strife, the renegotiation of gender roles, our nation's place in the world, declining economic fortunes, ugly wars and unconstitutional actions by the government. But this decade offered one critical difference; the disorderly world was no longer contained within a glass tube in a wood-paneled bunker. It sneaked up behind us and whacked us in the head.
The Numerology of the End-Times
It didn't help that the 2000s came upon us with a handicap conferred by Western numerology. Throughout the Christian Bible, three is a heavy number, and here we are, at the dawn of the Third Millennium, measured from the presumed date of the birth of Jesus the Christ, who is one-third of the Holy Trinity, who died at the age of 33, only to rise again on the third day.
It really doesn't matter what religion you were raised in, or whether you were raised in one at all; America is culturally Christian, and this numerology is written into the DNA of all Christian nations. Hence the popularity of religio-conspiracy tales such as The DaVinci Code and " National Treasure," or the apocalyptic fantasies of the Left Behind book series.
The new decade made its entrance under the threat of a terrorist act planned for the United States. Two weeks before New Year's Eve, authorities arrested Ahmed Ressam at a Canadian border crossing, where customs officials found bomb-making materials in his car. Ressam's target, intelligence officials said, was Los Angeles International Airport. Other cites, it was said, were in the terrorists' sights, as well. The Millennium Plot, they called it.
Celebrations for the great turning of the millennial wheel took place amid a backdrop of jitters; city officials across the nation talked of suspending New Year's events. In Washington D.C., a debate took place over whether a planned fireworks display was appropriate, in light of the threat.
The brave decided to party like it was 1999.
Win, Lose or Draw
The millennial decade got underway in America in the midst of a presidential campaign. Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, both scions of political families, faced off in a hard-fought contest that appeared to end in a draw. When the polls closed, the electoral college map featured several states that offered no clear winner, an outcome that had never occurred in the television age.
The drama dragged on for more than a month, culminating in an action by the Supreme Court that history will likely judge to have been unconstitutional.
The impact of this election on the American psyche was, I believe, profound; regardless of one's political orientation. A large part of the narrative of American exceptionalism hinges upon our belief that we are a self-governing people. However weak we may have felt in the face of corporate malfeasance or government overreach, we still clung to the notion of our collective power as a people through the use of the ballot box.