As we approach the 17th anniversary of 9/11, many of us think about the moment one knows the world is forever changed and the nature of a global crisis. On that cloudless day so many years ago, the world broke as hijacked planes shattered our sense of calm and order.
Many Americans still feel unsettled, and our early September anxiety this year combines with a unique sense that the world is in disarray — Russian meddling in our democracy, looming trade wars, and arguments over NATO, climate change and immigration.
Europe — a continent of stability that emerged from the ashes of World War II and later the fall of the Berlin Wall — seems to be coming apart after the Brexit vote and then the aftershocks in Europe after the Helsinki summit between President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Some areas of concern:
Turkey. Once viewed as part of Europe, Ankara has gone its own way under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğgan, pulling away from its democratic roots and cultural depth. Even before the 2016 failed military coup, the government had begun its crackdown on media and dissent.
Syria. It is a hollowed-out nation, with a quarter of its citizens on the run from death, destruction and the dictatorship of Bashar Assad, whose stranglehold from Damascus is aided and abetted by Iran and Russia.
Middle East. It is a mess. Israel, once the beacon of hope and democracy for Jews fleeing persecution and pogroms, is now divided within itself over the treatment of its own Arab population and those on the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has chosen a strategy of divide and conquer rather than a peaceful two-state solution with Palestinians.
America. It is factional and fractionalized with deep rifts along economic, political and racial lines. Trump shocks the nation on a daily basis, including his own officials, with his dangerous tweets and childlike tantrums.
So what can we do? How do we contend with a world torn apart and a nation seemingly at odds with itself?
First: Persist and resist. Call out the things that you see wrong at home and abroad. Write about it, talk with others about it, do something about the injustices you see in your neighborhood, city and country.
Second: Defend democracy and global community values. Demand that we fund projects overseas to expand democracy, and remain a beacon for nations less fortunate and secure than ours.
Third: Vote. The November elections are an opportunity to express your views. Insist that your neighbors and children vote at the county, state and national levels to ensure their interests are taken seriously. Motivate and inspire each other and resist the notion that a single vote won’t change things. It might.
We have been tested before, as we are reminded this week by The New York Times op-ed written anonymously by a senior Trump administration official lambasting Trump as a man of few guiding principles and little or no morality. But our nation is strong: We lived through Sept. 11 attacks 17 years ago, and our country banded together after that day of death and destruction.
Americans rise to the occasion.
Tara D. Sonenshine is a former U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs (2012 to 2013). She is senior career adviser at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.