That point is a simple one: The fact that so little has been restored in ten years should be a source of deep concern to all of us. It is no small thing. It is nothing less than a national disgrace that a project of such profound symbolic importance to the American people, and to the world, has remained trapped in the entrails of petty business as usual. But one thing should be clear: This is not a failure attributable in some general way to the negligence of the American people as a whole, since they are not the ones who decide such things as the disposition of Manhattan real estate or the design of monuments and memorials. It is specifically the failure of the nation’s leadership class — of its political, cultural, intellectual, legal, and business elites — and of the intersecting ways that their actions and beliefs have served to thwart a profound national need. Any attempt to memorialize September 11th should above all else express American resiliency, American strength, and American determination to prevail over the forces represented by the attacks. A chronically troubled work in progress expresses the opposite things, with a vividness that needs no elaboration.
But in America, a failure of the leadership class need not mean a comprehensive failure of the nation. There are always reasons to be hopeful about our country, which has a remarkable ability to renew itself. And the greatest good is often done, as William Blake put it, in “minute particulars,” in small but focused ways that individual citizens can manage on their own initiative. Such people retain the capacity to remember, and know instinctively how to keep the flame of memory alive.