Jill Jacobs: We've gone back to bad manners and insults

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The Independent Online

Maybe it's because my sister has stopped asking me to open her "suspicious- looking" mail or maybe it's been the announcement that studio executives felt the time was right for next month's release of the new Arnold Schwarzenegger action thriller, Collateral Damage. Somewhere between 11 September and the New Year, the "new normal" we had begun to accept had become indistinguishable from the "old normal" we had once taken for granted.

Post 9/11 resolutions of spiritual rebirths coupled with reports of Americans becoming a kinder and gentler nation had flickered out by the time the last flames of the ruins were finally extinguished at Ground Zero last month.

By the dawn of the New Year, Ground Zero was open and tickets were available for those prepared to wait in long lines to see the scene of devastation up close. And the fear of contracting anthrax had been replaced by the fear of losing one's job and the realisation that economic recession was now a reality.

The new spirit of bipartisanship – you know, that newly adopted "we're all one big happy family" mentality – lasted about as long as an Argentinian President. Well-intended vows of non-bipartisanship and politicians working together for the greater good of the people held until the realisation that it was an election year resurfaced, at which point both sides came out swinging.

Freedom of speech – the principle upon which this country was founded – is now alive and well, with many writing and speaking with the abandonment of the days prior to the attacks. While jabs at the President were initially frowned upon, of late journalists and pundits have allowed themselves to partake in the smorgasbord of verbal faux pas available to those who can't resist a little good-natured Bush bashing.

The President's recent vow, "not over my dead body will they raise your taxes", has raised some eyebrows and caused some flashbacks to his father's pledge – the one that led to his ultimate political demise – "read my lips, no new taxes."

For all the talk of "growing" and "changing for the better", change is often undesirable and unwanted. It's what keeps people in dysfunctional relationships and unfufilling jobs and causes the repetition of destructive behaviours. And while familiar is not always better, it is often more comfortable.

Were Americans vows to change sincere? Absolutely. But there seems to be a direct correlation between our willingess to change and the fear factor. The less fearful we have become, the less we're interested in change. Because, let's face it, besides the obvious concern about the current economic woes, it's pretty much back to business as usual.

Real change may occur when Americans become ready to purchase a smaller, more economically fuel-efficient automobile – a move that could foster a greater independence from nations who hold us politically and financially hostage due to our unhealthy dependence on foreign oil suppliers.

Making a commitment to improving this country and appreciating what we have may take more than waving a flag in the front yard or from the antenna of your SUV for a few moments in reaction to feeling threatened.

It may take more than maxing out your credit cards or sending a dollar to a child in a suffering war-torn country that we ignored until we were forced to intervene under the guise of compassion and concern.

Along with frequent vague alerts that serve to keep Americans in a state of panic, President Bush and the current administration have issued frequent reminders that the war against terrorism will be a "long one", perhaps lasting years.

I doubt it will take us that long to realise that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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