For the unlucky ones, the losses of 9/11—even ten years on—remain unspeakable. For the rest of us, in addition to mayhem and horror, that day unleashed a bevy of irritations and annoyances that continue to reverberate across the years—and are quite speakable. Here's what we have 9/11 to thank for.
You'd think that after a decade, the ad hoc tool that all the cable and broadcast networks came up with in a panic to pack as much information into the TV screen as possible in the wake of the attacks would eventually outlive its usefulness. Not so. Like a cathode-ray zombie, the bottom strip of our cable TV continues to spew non-sequiturs and irrelevancies—CNN's false claim to be giving up the crawl back in 2008 notwithstanding. The addition of a textual overlay to a newscast was a pretty good idea when it was urgently conveying information about whether the White House continued to exist. I feel like the crisis has kind of passed at this point, though.
It made sense on September 12, 2001, to shut down the street in front of the NYPD's headquarters in lower Manhattan. Who knew what was coming next? Ten years later, the onerous traffic restrictions and street closures imposed on cities across the country seem a bit much. The attacks' legacy in Washington, D.C., includes a nightmare patchwork of checkpoints and closures on Capitol Hill that aims to disrupt potential truck bombers with confusion and road rage. Nearly half of Los Angeles' financial district is at least partially restricted to traffic, according to the Washington Times. Indeed, the imposition of road closings and new security-enhanced traffic patterns across the Northeastern U.S. after 9/11 likely contributed to increased traffic fatalities in the region.
The Utter Collapse of New York's Political System at the Moment of Its Greatest Need
How long did it take to build the World Trade Center? About five years from groundbreaking to move-in. How long did it take to replace the complex after it was wantonly destroyed by Iron Age thugs? It should be finished by 2037, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. All it took to expose New York's leaders as incompetent, petty, shortsighted hacks was the worst act of political terrorism ever.
The Housing Bubble
In 2006, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, New York magazine asked a bunch of experts to imagine an alternative history in which the attack never happened. Real estate appraiser Jonathan Miller's answer: "Your apartment would be worth a lot less. September 11 prompted this housing boom. Just before 9/11 we were in a recession; housing prices began to fall and volume really dropped off. We would have seen a continuation of a slide throughout much of the next two years. A run-up occurred as the result of the Fed's post-9/11 action to drop interest rates, which led to a sharp decrease in mortgage rates. It's that decrease that ultimately led to the price appreciation we've seen." Ha ha ha guess what happened next.
One of the most enraging consequences of 9/11 is the emergence of people who deny it happened.
Destabilizing events will naturally realign politics. But there's been something uniquely disturbing about watching the tribal affiliations of pro-war, "anti-jihad" liberals leech rightward. Ostensibly, a liberal ought to be able to support certain policies in light of changed circumstances—like invading Iraq or illegally listening in on the communications of Americans without a warrant—while continuing to favor other unrelated policies that they used to favor, like increasing access to health care or not being racist. But the Dennis Millers and Tammy Bruces and Joe Liebermans of the world can't seem to disaggregate their war and security preferences from everything else about themselves that made them liberals. So they've spent the last decade killing the latter and contorting themselves into Tea Partying hayseeds.
Taking Off Your Shoes
Psych! You don't have 9/11 to blame for having to take off your shoes at airports. Or for not being able to bring liquids on flights. Both those were instituted in response to later threats—Richard Reid's failed December 2001 attempt to bring down an American Airlines flight with a shoe bomb and an unrealized 2006 plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights with liquid explosives. The only major security reform in the immediate aftermath was the ban on nail clippers, which in retrospect seems hilarious.
The Inescapable Surveillance State
It always seemed odd that the federal bureaucracy fundamentally re-aligned itself in response to what is at bottom a contingent act. The hijackers were spectacularly successful, but what if more things had gone wrong (or right) and they'd only taken control of two planes? Or if they'd all missed their targets and only killed a few hundred innocents? Would we have created a new cabinet-level agency charged in part with monitoring the homeland and given it $56 billion every year? "These guys got box-cutters and fake bombs through airport security" is an odd argument for putting the Secret Service and U.S. Coast Guard under the same management. In any case, there it is. And there are the federal and state applications for wiretap warrants, which numbered about 1,250 and 2000 and 3,500 last year. And there are the secret FISA applications to eavesdrop on foreign intelligence activities, which numbered 6,724 in the 1990s and 18,266 in the 2000s. And there are the 111,624 Patriot Act-authorized national security letters that have been sent demanding information about 40,169 American residents since 2004.
Anyway, thanks 9/11.