NEW YORK, Sept. 11, 2016/ Troy Media/ – America is in desperate need of another ‘bullhorn’ moment, to once again feel a unity and common purpose. But let us pray it does not take an atrocity like the nation experienced on Sept. 11, 2001.
Three days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush visited Ground Zero and stood among the rescue workers whose mental and physical exhaustion had to be beyond our ability to comprehend.
Bush was dressed in a windbreaker. There was no stage, no podium and no microphone. He was given a bullhorn and jumped atop the burned remains of a fire engine. He placed his arm around Bob Beckwith, a veteran New York firefighter.
It was precisely the kind of situation in which Bush could shine. As president, he always seemed oddly ill at ease when forced to be formal, when circumstances demanded he address the nation from behind the desk in the Oval Office or speak off a teleprompter in a speech written by others.
His natural state was casual, off the cuff and decidedly unadorned. And it was in those moments that the true man, the true president and the true leader could shine.
The space of 15 years from 9/11 may have caused some Americans to forget what life was like in the aftermath of that horror of a morning. But, oh Lord, did we need leadership in those terrible hours that stretched into days when the entire country was in a daze.
In New York, amidst the rubble, Bush in a few short sentences provided that leadership. He set a nation knocked off balance onto a path of healing, recovery and unified resolve the likes of which we have not seen since and, I fear, may never see again.
“I want you all to know that America today, America today is on bended knee, in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn. The nation stands with the good people of New York City and New Jersey and Connecticut as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens.”
These were appropriate and necessary words. They acknowledged the intense gratitude towards those whose duty and calling it was to put themselves in the middle of an unimaginable human horror.
But it’s what came after that makes the speech truly remarkable. Those 32 words are among the most powerful in American history and will surely resonate as long as there is a United States of America to remember them. Bush’s voice was muddied and tinny as he held a bullhorn close to his mouth and a rescue worker shouted out, “I can’t hear you!”
His response was immediate, unscripted and came from the heart of a man who until that point had yet to gain full legitimacy and the respect of the American people. It was in that moment that the man became a president and a president became a leader. Bush held the bullhorn to his mouth and responded:
“I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”
Bush was only eight months into his presidency at that point. There would be almost eight years to follow and whatever divisions inevitably formed once the shock wore off, in that single moment after the towers fell, he spoke the words a battered country desperately needed.
Let history judge what came after.
In those 32 words, the future course of the United States was born and the consequences will be felt for generations to come.
But on that day, in New York City, those words were a welcome rallying cry. With 32 words spoken through a bullhorn, Bush made certain that all the people and all the states of America were united once again.
If only for the briefest of moments.
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a U.S based writer and occasional lawyer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day. Gavin is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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