On quite a different day seven years later -- Sept. 14, 2008 -- the huge investment firm Lehman Brothers declared that it was broke, as the subprime mortgage industry collapsed like a house of cards. The stock market continued a plunge that had begun a year earlier, with the market losing nearly half of its value from September 2007 to December 2008. Eventually, some $8 trillion worth of Americans' home and retirement equity was wiped out.
The Left blamed the innate greed of Wall Street, whose modern buccaneers had recklessly endangered the banking system in search of obscene billion-dollar profits. The Right placed greater blame on the federal government, whose unhinged effort to ensure everyone the chance to buy a home resulted in guarantees for phony mortgage loans that could not be honored and should never have been written.
Yet three years later, there is general agreement over what followed from Sept. 14. The American financial system survived. In contrast, Europe's probably will not as we once knew it. Both Democrats and Republicans are now talking about saving money and paying off debts -- not borrowing more trillions. Both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street protests reflected a similar anger at an out-of-touch, Washington technocracy. The former's participants were madder at big-government nincompoops who warped and manipulated free markets. The latter's protestors were more furious at Wall Street investors who did the same.
After a decade of tragedy in Iraq, the stalemate in Afghanistan, the $9 trillion added to the federal debt, the continuing downturn, and the destruction of home and retirement equity, the United States did not unravel. Iraq did not end in a horrendous defeat. Bin Laden did not pull off any more 9/11s. Our constitutional freedoms were not lost. There was not a Great Depression that followed the financial panic. And our rivals now find themselves in more trouble than are we.
Americans will never agree on the causes of, and the reactions to, Sept. 11 and Sept. 14. But some day, after the present acrimony recedes, they will at least appreciate why, in an existential sense, their country survived both of those awful September days.
Quite simply, no other people proved as resilient and self-critical, and no other constitution as stable and politically brilliant as ours.