20 Years

Never forget. How could we? Chances are, you remember exactly where you were. You remember the complete and utter shock. Your eyes and ears had to be deceiving you. Unfortunately, they weren’t. The unthinkable happened: September 11th, 2001.

It was a clear Tuesday morning. There was a bright, blue sky above. Summer was transitioning to Fall in New York. Few knew what was about to come. That day, the world changed.

I lived in New York City in 2001. I wasn’t there on that fateful September day. But when I returned, it was clearly a changed place. I can still smell the wet, smoky soot at Ground Zero. I can still feel the tears and the hugs. I just can’t believe it’s been 20 years.

2 guys I went to Cal with left us on September 11. Brent was on the 86th floor of the South Tower. Mark was on United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville. Brent’s baby girl was born 6 months later. Mark was one of the guys who said, “let’s roll.” Brave guys. Tragic endings. Taken too young. I have such great respect for both of them.

Heroes converged on Lower Manhattan that Tuesday morning. Many wore the uniform of NYPD and FDNY. Their names were called. Their professional purpose kicked in. As the masses ran away, they ran in.

I think about Morgan Stanley’s head of security. His name was Rick Rescorla. It’s a name worth knowing and remembering. He’s an American hero. Rescorla, a Vietnam veteran, is credited with saving nearly 3,000 lives that day. Almost every Morgan Stanley employee made it out of the South Tower alive. But there was a handful still unaccounted for. So Mr. Rescorla went back in. Nobody left behind on his watch was his motive. Rick Rescorla was in the South Tower when it collapsed. He died a hero. His story lives on.

People came together following that day; Our nation. Much of the world. It was us versus them. The good guys against the bad guys. The victims versus the perpetrators. The peaceful versus the terrorists. American pride swept the nation. That is so important to remember. That is so important to understand. The challenge is to get that back.

The Stock Market never opened that day. The first plane hit the North Tower 45 minutes before the scheduled open. Trading was halted. The New York Stock Exchange was closed for 4 consecutive days plus the weekend, the longest stretch since World War I. It opened up the following Monday, September 17, falling 685 points. It was a 7% decline. That was then, the largest single-day point decline in history.

The Market doesn’t flinch much around geopolitics these days. It used to be that a terrorist attack would send both the Dollar and the price of Oil soaring. Those trends have changed. Perhaps we’ve just become immune. But there’s some significance. First, our Economy runs less and less on Crude and we now produce so much of what we consume. The result has America far less dependent on foreign sources. The issue with the Dollar is a little more complicated. The simple explanation is America’s currency doesn’t carry the same weight around the world. There hasn’t been a rush lately to that ultimate safe haven symbol. The Dollar has been weak. Make no mistake, the Dollar is still the global reserve currency. But foreign nations don’t view us as they once did. Now that’s a new trend. And it’s not a good one.

20 years later, America is not in a great place. There’s a lot of soul searching going on as to who we are. These states are not as united as the framework was designed. 20 years is nearly 10% of America’s existence. It’s a consequential period. Time heals. But this process is taking a toll and doesn’t seem to be on the right path for unity.

Cynicism has been on an upswing in America. World War II brought what’s been called the “Greatest Generation.” These were the Americans that grew up in the Depression and banded together in sacrifice for the war effort. It was an attitude of selflessness, for the common good. Things have been different since.

Perhaps the seeds of cynicism were planted around the Kennedy assassination. Then they blossomed during Watergate, Iran-Contra and the Clinton years. Americans were losing trust in the establishment. The Financial Crisis took it to a whole new level. Endless wars are not popular. Corporate bailouts aren’t either. Too big to fail could also mean too big to exist. Everything is political. Rules don’t seem to apply to everyone. In 2021, cynicism is everywhere.

Today’s anger in America comes from within. The internet has made everyone an expert and social media creates silos for like-minded people to fuel the rage. The divide has gotten so wide that many can’t even agree on facts. Political rhetoric is filled with brainwashing and manipulation. Us versus them used to refer to foreign adversaries. Today it pits Americans against fellow Americans. The enemy is us. Even our allies don’t know what to think. There are some serious conversations taking place questioning whether America is in decline, that America’s dominance has frayed. September 11th brought America together. Today, it’s hard to imagine it being further apart.

With adversity comes opportunity. That’s when the magic happens. Leaders rise. The Good often shines. We should be celebrating the Good. The Good doesn’t get enough attention. The news wires focus mostly on the Bad. The Bad sells. But the Good heals. Good looks past cynicism. Good looks for solutions. Good isn’t always popular. Good can be hard. Good is what is needed, but not always wanted. Good can be considered naive, but it’s also infectious. We need to embrace the Good. We need to promote the Good. We need to rally around the Good. America’s greatness, its story, has come on the backs of the Good. Those are the stories worth telling. We need to keep telling those stories. We are an imperfect nation. We all know it. Our Founding Fathers said it upfront. But admitting it and striving to be better is what it’s all about. Look for the Good. It still lives here.

The words American and Optimism go hand in hand. You could say that Cynicism hijacked America just as those terrorists hijacked the planes. The good news is we can all do something about it. There’s still time. I tell my team all the time, if you commit to making a positive difference in other people’s lives, good things will happen. Little things lead to big things. It takes courage to commit to the Good during times of adversity. Fortunately, the Good has guts.

Home of the Brave. Never forget.

Have a nice weekend. We’ll be back, dark and early on Monday.


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