American Morning

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September 11th, 2009
06:25 AM ET

What happened to national unity?

By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke

Remember how 9/11 drew us together as a country? We were unified – we would do anything for one another.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="An American flag flies in front of the construction site of the former World Trade Center site on September 8, 2009."]

Now there's shouting, name-calling and even a congressman calling the president a liar. It's not that we've forgotten what happened on that day. The lingering pain makes that impossible for many of us.

But some visiting the 9/11 Tribute Center memorial in New York this week wondered if we remember enough. “This was a terrible time in our lives and we need to step back and remember and teach everyone what we saw,” says visitor Charlotte Harris.

Not just the pain, but what we shared. “From 9/11 it was everybody together and this health care thing has got everybody tore apart,” said Connie Shrock.

It leads us to wonder: Is unity still possible?

Watch: Where's the national unity? » Video

“The vast majority of Americans want good for all,” says Republican Strategist Ed Rollins. “But I think at the end of the day, they now have a lot in their faces and there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot about their own lives they don’t control.”

It has had a chilling effect on compromise and civility: if you don't agree with me – you're unpatriotic. Drew Westen, a psychology professor and Obama supporter, says the president, as the nation's moral authority, needs to step up.

“The problem with his approach has been when someone’s (un)civil, he’s been quiet. And that’s not leadership. That’s actually a failure of leadership.”

Westen says Mr. Obama lost an opportunity to lead during his speech to Congress by not addressing Representative Joe Wilson's heckling on the spot. He should have said, according to Westen: “This is an exact example of what I’m talking about. This isn’t how we solve our nation’s problems.”

For those committed to seeking common ground, the two dominant political parties are the source of much divisiveness. “The way the political process is structured relies on the society being fragmented and disunified,” says independent political activist Jackie Salit, president of

Although the intense patriotism felt by many after 9/11 may have receded, Salit says the key is for people to recognize their shared goals. “When people create together, one's ideological differences don't matter as much."

What do you think? Is national unity still possible?

Filed under: Just Sayin'
soundoff (132 Responses)
  1. Kim

    There has been much discussion in this forum regarding the need to a return to civility in public discourse. I can not endorse that view enough. Many posts have also been dedicated to the view that if you are white and you do not agree with President Obama, well then, you must be racist. This points up a need to return this country to a level of thoughtful, intellectually guided discourse. What would these posters consider the individuals interviewed by CNN, CBS, etc., prior to the presidential election that claimed they were voting for the first time in their lives because there was a black candidate? These individuals were racists in the truest sense of the word. It was not the content of the candidate Obama's message that sent these people to the polls, but the color of his skin. I would request that every voter take the time and energy to truly understand what and who they are voting for prior to casting a ballot, and that only once they have exercised their intellect on the matter, rather than reacting emotionally, that they proceed to the polls. As my conservative friends consider me a raving liberal, while my liberal friends consider me a staunch conservative, I would conclude that my preference for being considered an independent appears to be correct. That being said. I do not agree with many of President Obama's policy stances. While I would never wish a President to fail in his duty to the nation, I can wish that both parties would confine themselves to working on real issues and looking for real solutions, and not necessarily on a politically motivated schedule. For instance, health care reform is necessary. However, act in haste, repent at leisure, did not become a standard maxim without merit. We need to think this through thoroughly, deeply, and from every aspect before we proceed. The cost of failure in capital investments, social chaos, and social capital is too high. Had the administration addressed this process in a measured and considered manner, the response from the people would have not been as violent or partisan. It was the politically motivated schedule that created the initial divide that has subsequently been fanned for additional political reasons. Unity is not synonomous with unaninimity. We will never achieve the latter, but I have hopes that it will possible for out nation to be united in seeking better answers, using our individual intellect to the maximum of our capacity to make the best decisions possible, and in insilling a level of civility in social discouse as we attempt to do those things.

    September 28, 2009 at 3:16 pm |
  2. Nancy J. Hall

    I just wanted to comment on the President Obama song controversy: I think that it is a real shame that we have to pick at everything that the president does when it comes to our kids. Personally, I am offended. First, the president was trying to push his political views on our kids because he wanted to speak to them and now it is being done because of this song that the kids sang. I am so tired of hearing how he is trying to influence our kids' political views. Shouldn't our kids be involved in the political process? It is bad enough that our country has a low voting rate. All the people in this country, and we can't get 75% of the votes within our country. That is a shame! And now the kids feel like they have been involved in history and we want to take that away from them and make them feel like they did something bad or wrong. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. At least we have a president who is interested in our kids' future. This was not an issue before the elections, so why should it be an issue, now. President Obama's song is not a song about "pushing political views" on our kids. It is a song about triumph. For the first time in this country's history, a black man is president of the United States. That is an exciting thing for us, Black Americans. We need to start worrying about the state of our country. Why aren't ya'll in an uproar about sex and sex ads on television (in the evening before the kids go to bed)? Why aren't ya'll in an uproar about the extreme violence in cartoons for our kids? This is all nonsense and in my opinion, racist and discriminating. I am very angry and wish we would put our focus and attention on things that are truly important, like homeless vets, health care, expensive necessities, etc...

    September 28, 2009 at 8:35 am |
  3. jon w

    national unity will never be the same untill the people take back this country from the lunatics in DC.. and that can only happen IF we the people dont vote for career types. WE need fresh ideas and people in DC

    September 24, 2009 at 1:13 pm |
  4. Jackie in Dallas

    Unity? No. Civility? Maybe. Respect? Hopefully.

    You can only have unity when you have something with which to unite a group. Unity occurs infrequently, and usually in the face of disaster of some sort, either natural or man-made. Even this country wasn't founded in unity...go back and read American Revolutionary history, and you will see.

    What really has been lost is a sense of respect for differing views and a willingness to compromise to reach a common goal. Since it appears that the main goal of the GOP right now is to torpedo President Obama's terms of office, there is a certain amount of unity among the GOP, but even there, you can see cracks and discontinuity starting to grow as various potential contenders for 2012 start to jockey for position. We're seeing the same in the Democratic Party, too - although it is really difficult to beat a sitting President.

    Until we get the wackos from both sides away from the microphones, and allow the voice of moderation to take the stage, we are doomed to growing disrespect.

    September 23, 2009 at 3:49 pm |
  5. Bethie

    Mike in Austin – you're on the wrong website – I'm just sayin...

    National unity – maybe once everyone is educated. If the posts above are indications of how well we learned to read write and spell it's no wonder people speak to one another in angry sound bites.

    Maybe next adminisrtation should be President Aretha Franklin R-E-S-P-E-C-T
    Vice President – Rodney King – why can't we all just get along?

    September 23, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  6. Mike Austin,TX

    I'm just sayin...what a stupid column. Now there is name calling.??? Reach back and grab your ears. Pull down real hard until you hear a pop. The name calling and ugliness was extremely loud from the left all during GWB's admin. Aided by the weaknee'd media. Americans do not want to be silent anymore. If they are not listened to, this is what happens. Go peddle your myopic BS somewhere else. I'm just sayin.....

    September 23, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  7. Butch Jordan

    I often wonder if America, divided against itself, can stand. I don't expect it to fall but, it will at least be divided. That is what makes our country so wonderful. A very famous Frenchman once said that, I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

    As a nation, we are pretty critical of every decision our lawmakers make. For years we were sitting on our couches and not paying attention. Well...we're paying attention now, and for the first time in my 59 years of life, I'm starting to see a few politicians sweat. If that is what disunity has caused, then i'm all for a little more shouting and screaming. It's time we demanded that our politicians pay attention to us. I think they're finally getting the message! Thank you Jesus !!!!

    September 23, 2009 at 10:33 am |
  8. Lester T Stull

    Our country in my mind was built on prayer, unity sweat,honesty and the basic standard that an honest days work for an honest days pay was the rewards for the day.Having said that i reflect to the whitehouse where we have our first black president whom we as the people, put into that position to serve us.Not a fair situation inasfar as what he inherited when he took office.
    Our people on walstreet are the most imnmoral selfish self centerd greedy people I have ever seen in my life.There is the main reason for the economic meltdown we suffered last year and the fact that noone is being persecuted with all the lies and misleading of home owners for personal greed is beyond me and will be repeated if there is punishment for this type of public stealing and economic rape.
    We need to put prayer back where it belongs.We need to readjust are financial players with stiff jail terms when they cross moral lines for personal greed.
    I feel,with a heavy heart that we as a nation would find it very hard to name one person with a moral standard that we would want to instill in our children today.If I had to choose I feel President Oboma would be the one that best fits the way our children should be leaning from .Not from the people in our congress or senate or even our town halls.People need to relize that there are little minds taking all this in,all the fighting all the bickering all the sex scandles all the lieing all the people suffering and the people letting people suffer,all the stuff that make growing up look like maybe there isn't much to look forward to.I feel we need to get back to the basics of life and family first and what is fair is fair as well as what is wrong is wrong.
    Prayer in school is to me fine .if you want to pray,pray if you want to meditate, meditate.what-ever you do while others are doing their thing just do it.
    Stop the greed.Put something back into our country,share your good fortune don't flaunt it.Be kind to your fellow man and teach your children to share as well as the differance from earning an honest dollar or cheating the common man just because you can.

    September 23, 2009 at 9:35 am |
  9. Fred

    We live in a time when everyone has an instant voice via the internet and emotions reign. Judgment lags behind. It's interesting when something happens like Kennedy's death the voices temporarily take a break. Historically it seems like we are united by catastrophe.

    September 23, 2009 at 8:57 am |
  10. The Bug

    When the FOXNEWS Klan and Rush decided that it was alright to sell sedition on the airwaves and tha tbeing agent provocateurs for treason was all right as long as it was coming from Conservative Right Wing Nuts.

    September 22, 2009 at 8:20 am |
  11. Audigal

    The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life. ~Einstein

    September 21, 2009 at 10:39 am |
  12. Lois

    How can a country, led by greedy politicians lookin to endorse their own special interest and line there pocket's ever consider true unity. Politicians aren't concerned with the worries of people like me who live below poverty level and don't know half the time where their next meal is coming from! Big bank bail outs, (1 time) $250 stimulus checks"although helpful for ! month, and special interest grants??? What a joke! I mean, when Americans are worrying about being put out on the streets because they can't make their rent payment, you think we care about global warming, mating habits of animals, or effects of every crazy thing in the imagination on climate? NOT HARDLY! Get back to the basics or this country is gonna go down the toilet, even the least educated in this country has enough walking around sense to see that. Take corruption out of government and you'd probably resolve the deficit. Don't make the mistake of thinking that I'm the only person in the U.S. with this opinion either. They need to pull their head's out of the sand and start hearing what the little people are trying to tell them! Before it's far too late!

    September 21, 2009 at 8:49 am |
  13. Leigh Haught

    The media and libs just don't get it! I am an Independent and have attended 2 tea parties and a townhall meeting. I live in a state that is 3 to one democrat. All the events I attended were more dems than republicans! We are all angry that our voice is not being heard in Washington. Our elected officials who are suppose to represent the people, not special interest and the greed of their party! I am furious that we have been called astroturf, Nazis, rednecks. I am one of many with a college education, have contributed as a working professional and am outraged at the arrogance of congress!

    September 21, 2009 at 8:45 am |
  14. TPaine18

    Phil on the 14th - finally, some clear thinking on this post! Why is the initial reaction of CNN readers on any given story so heavily pro-Obama and so extremely anti-Bush? CNN editors, take note. When the fairness doctrine is imposed, you have the most to lose.

    September 16, 2009 at 3:03 pm |
  15. Roy

    Listen people....unity will only happen when we ALL take responsibility for it! We don't need the media, congress or the president to be the example. We as individuals need to take responsibility for ourselves and quit blaming everyone else for our problems and inability to be civil to one another. Start with your neighbors and go from there. If there is a congressional reresentative that refuses to compromise then vote them out regardless of political affiliation. They will get the message! It starts with us and until we all take a look in the mirror, change ourselves first and quit blaming everyone else for us not being able to get along, nothing is going to change!

    September 14, 2009 at 10:37 pm |
  16. Phil

    I read all these posts about the hate-filled rhetoric of a polarized party, and I have to agree.

    I mean, listen to this list of names, Bush, Rush, Palin, etc...
    I read y'all talking about how dumb they are, how full of hate they are.

    And then I sit back and I shake my head at the hypocrisy.

    Stop the chain of self-promotion and liberal back-patting.
    Listen to your hate-filled diatribes ranting on about the " hate-filled diatribes" of the conservative party.

    See what you just did there?

    Stop pointing fingers. This is a country of citizens. The government is supposed to SERVE US, and FEAR US. Not the other way around.

    We shouldn't be constantly following politicians lives, clinging to their every words. They should be following us, polling us. They are OUR VOICE.

    We've reached a time of dependence on the government, where we believe Big brother can fix everything. But this country was founded to avoid that very thing. To avoid taxation without representation, to escape a strong centralized government laying down laws without the input of its people.
    And yet, a little over 200 years later, we have that again.

    There is a trend in America, and it is not towards the values and beliefs that this country is founded on.

    September 14, 2009 at 12:45 pm |
  17. Sharon Bogney

    Well, for me I think that there is really nothing wrong with the nations unity; but all the bickering is actually just a means of detraction from very important issues that needs to be dealt with.

    September 14, 2009 at 7:11 am |
  18. Jessica M.

    Ms Salit,
    Thanks for a great posting. For those of us who were right at ground zero that day it's a crying shame to see that we're back to bipartisian squabbling. I disagree with Dr. Westin though–I think ignoring Rep's Wilson's outbust gave the guy just enough rope to hang himself.

    September 13, 2009 at 11:14 am |
  19. Carolyn Sorter

    I would like someone to tell me how the uninsured citizens and non citizens will be handled in the emergency rooms after they are injured. We have been told that illegal people will not be insured with our new health system. But we are not capable of just turning away anyone that needs medical treatment. My insurance dollars will still be used for these people.

    September 12, 2009 at 7:51 pm |
  20. Fed Up

    Obama is doing a lot for unity. Why even now, if you disagree with him, you are being branded a terrorist or a raceist. But don't worry, all the 'good' people will be able to report these disidents to the White House website! After all, since Obama is being touted as the president he is the nation’s moral authority. So we have someone who does not even know right from wrong (appointing self-proclaimed communists, tax evaders, Socialists, etc. to government positions) as our moral compass. He even said that he can't allow himself to be distracted by 24 hour news services. Must be that he does not want to hear what the people are saying! I just want to know who is really the power behind this man.

    September 12, 2009 at 7:13 pm |
  21. douglas

    what i'm tired of is when you don't agreee with obama its got to be all you people out there saying that stop sound like the boy who cried wolf !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 12, 2009 at 2:23 am |
  22. Helen

    I'm not American I'm British but in the end what does that matter because the question is if unity can still be reached. I say yes, what's the use of having a democracy and freedom of speech and different ideas if you can't express them, that alone should bring people together. We will never beable to agree on everything, and President Obama said that on the night he won the election, but when you all needed eachother on the 9 of September you all felt for eachother. Everyone, involved directly or not, felt the pain for those who died and for those who survived and for those who lost someone and never before in my life did i feel the togetherness that i felt on that day. So the answer again to your question can unity be reached is YES IT CAN. America you showed us that on that day that when the fat hits the pan you all join together. I think you can really be proud.

    September 11, 2009 at 7:22 pm |
  23. Alvaader Frazier, Esq.

    I agree totally with Ms Salit. As an Independent, the two party monopoly is way too invested in partisanship politics. The American People showed that National Unity is paramount on the days immediately after 9/11. However, the Major parties took that demand and went to war against a Country that clearly was not among the culprits. And sought to continue the partisan gridlock and refused at every turn to listen to the growing American voices that increasingly identified themselves as Independents. We all elected President Obama with high hopes that he would change the political environment and structures so that the honest, caring, and hard working Americans could be the people, by the people who drove direction in the USA and not ANY political party. President Obama could go far in placing Non Partisan Elections on the National Agenda towards being acted on in every State, City, and National Election..."When we create together...Jackie Salit, Independent Best..Alvaader...9/11/09

    September 11, 2009 at 4:36 pm |
  24. StarQuest (Henry Stern)

    A major obstacle to national unity is the make-up of our political parties – Democrats and Republicans. In order to win primary elections, candidates take extreme positions which cater to the most intense members of their party. Independents are often not even allowed to participate in primaries, and the laws in many states discourage third parties.

    When Mayor Bloomberg tried to get nonpartisan municipal elections in 2003, the plan was defeated by a coalition of interest groups.
    The last proposed new State Constitution also lost. So this will be a dilfficult problem for reformers to try solve. The special interests favor the status quo because they are doing well under it

    September 11, 2009 at 2:11 pm |
  25. douglas


    September 11, 2009 at 2:11 pm |
  26. douglas

    i'm not a liberial, i am an independent.i could never be for unity under obama. just listen to those democrates . obama is to liberbial for me and i would never vote for anyone who goes around and apologize's to the world.AMERICA is a nation that makes mastakes,but we have done more for this world then any other nation on this planet.

    September 11, 2009 at 2:03 pm |
  27. Judy

    I agree that the media ,and their endless commentary, try to sway their viewers to the station view point. I have a suggestion the next time there is an event worth watching. C-SPAN, just the whole event start to finish. No commentary, no voice over, just the whole event. Then you can make up your own mine. No one telling you what you should think. Of course this makes you actually think for your self. But then most of us need to exercise our brains. THANK GOD FOR C-SPAN.

    September 11, 2009 at 1:53 pm |
  28. Michael Maddox-France

    National unity? Please. With people in both parties yelling at each other, calling each other liars, unpatriotic bigots, gays alleging that Christians are impeding on their rights, Christians unwilling to give an inch when it comes to gay rights and other issues that contradict our beliefs, atheists screaming "(bleep) RELIGION!", staunch conservatives screaming and shouting "Obama's a Socialist!", and so-on, what makes you think we can get together without another 9/11 happening?

    Quite frankly, seeing how childish and stubbornly prideful we all are, I don't think even a nuking of the White House (God forbid) could bring us together. The racists and birthers would be singing "Hallelujah", the liberals of the political spectrum would all be rioting against every single conservative in the nation. Basically, all hell's going to break loose when the next disaster strikes.

    September 11, 2009 at 12:12 pm |
  29. Daniel Klinestiver

    I can't agree with Westens statement that our President should have made an example of Wilson during the speech. Emberassing a congressman like that would have only given more ammo for opposition. Wilson did a good enough job emberassing himself and shaming his party. Obama's calm and controlled response was appropriate and only highlighted the ... Read Moredifference between Obamas reserved and careful leadership and the hyperbolic, emotional, nonsensical, and dischordant screeching offered by the opposition.

    September 11, 2009 at 11:11 am |
  30. Bruce Hoff

    It seems to take a disaster to bring out the best in our country. Imagine how wonderful our country could be if we extended that helping hand every day. Folks, we are in a disaster now and your neighbor needs your help. Please everyone stop wasting energy finding blame and use the energy to move our country forward. What better tribute to our 911 fallen, than everyone to lay down their differences and help each other. Harsh words make issues worse. Politicians need to be held to a higher standard and we ourselves need to reflect standards that our children can take pride in.

    September 11, 2009 at 10:40 am |
  31. eliz wolfgang

    National Unity in America existed in the good ole US of A when the white anglo was in charge. (That was their way of thinking)!. As long as the white anglo saxon male was in charge, everything was just fine....maintaining of the status quo.

    Now it seems that America is trying to move forward with a black man in charge, the white anglo male ego can't take it. He shows his true colors,i.e., spews hatred, greed, stupidity, no respect, and every low down trick that they can come up with. They seem to believe that they have a monopoly on ALL THESE TRUE COLORS.

    President Obama gave Wilson more than I would have. (He accepted his apology). Not only is Wilson a pathetic old racist (Not just him) he has been wearing his colors for a long time, probably since the day he could walk, just like the rest of you.. He even lets his sons make excuses for him. But of course, they are cut from the same cloth. Pass down from one generation to another. What a Legacy!!!!

    The National Unity in America is based on Hatred for people who is not Anglo. Take care America....If there are no changes in the way you do things, you want have a leg to stand on when you get to those Pearly Gates....You know who is warching and listening, if you still Believe.


    September 11, 2009 at 10:11 am |
  32. ronvan

    As a whole, WE the people, and our nation have not really changed much. It has always taken some kind of tragedy, whether natural or man made, for us to come together. When these events happen, it is then that you see the compassion, greatness, and UNITY within our people! Sadly as other nations, who hate us, watch us argue, call each other names, cannot agree on anything, ETC, ETC, think that this makes us weak! These countries have NEVER learned that to attack our nation, or our people, only makes us more determined to UNITE and see their total destruction!

    September 11, 2009 at 9:26 am |
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