A University of Minnesota history professor has written a book exploring America's response to the 9/11 attacks in a broader historical context.
As we mark the 17th anniversary this month of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the airliner brought down in Pennsylvania, professor Elaine Tyler May speaks about her book, "Fortress America: How We Embraced Fear and Abandoned Democracy."
She says we are losing our democracy, our sense of a common good, and our sense that we need to believe in each other and those we elect to represent us.
Professor May looks for historical reference points to try to understand Americans' thinking after September 11, 2001, such as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Cold War of the 1950s.
The anti-communist sentiment in the 50s contributed to the sense that "you can't trust the people around you." But you couldn't tell, by looking, who was a communist.
The race riots and violent crime in the 1960s added a "racial marker," she says, and "the color of danger had shifted from red to black." The 9/11 attacks then unleashed a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment.
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The Cold War call to build your own atomic bomb shelters in the basement was the beginning of the message from the government that "you're on your own" and "you can't trust the government to protect you."
May says "we need to strengthen our citizenship backbones, to be able to clear away some of the muddle, and get clarity for ourselves on what's at stake in the world today."
What would it take to restore faith in government? May says "we need to breathe new life into our democratic institutions and into our identities as citizens."
"Americans have become much too fearful of all the wrong things. They're afraid of things they shouldn't be afraid of, and they're not afraid of things they should be afraid of." The most "terrifying thing that has happened to this country," May says, "is the extreme gap between the wealthy and everyone else."
Elaine Tyler May spoke Sept. 11, 2018 at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School. She's a Regents Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Minnesota and was interviewed by Star Tribune editorial writer John Rash.
To listen to the program, click the audio player above.