American patriots express their regard for this country in different ways. Case in point: the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01.
There were many ceremonies and activities this past weekend in remembrance of 9/11. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden attended the commemoration at Ground Zero, accompanied by former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former First Lady Michelle Obama. The President and Mrs. Biden were later joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and former President George Bush at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Afterward, President Biden participated in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon.
Conspicuously absent from the remembrance programs was former President Donald Trump, who declined the invitation to participate. However, Trump made a surprise visit to the New York Police Department’s 17th precinct and Fire Department Ladder 2 company stationhouse, where he praised New York’s finest and thanked them for their service.
These tributes reveal the mindset of America’s leaders.
At the formal ceremonies at Ground Zero, the Flight 93 Memorial, and the Pentagon, Democrat and Republican representatives came together in joint empathy, deep sorrow, and respect. A palpable sense of loss was clearly evident in the demeanor and facial expressions of officials in attendance. They were present for one reason and one reason only: to honor fellow Americans and support grieving families. During the 20th anniversary programs, America came first for them.
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While Donald Trump’s benevolence and praise for the NYPD and NYFD was appreciated, his motivation was not quite so straightforward. The former President could not resist seizing the spotlight on 9/11 to promote himself and call out his rival, Joe Biden, for “incompetence” during the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trump then posed for pictures and spoke about his plans for a 2024 presidential run. Clearly, Trump’s visit to New York’s police and firefighters was not solely to express appreciation for their constant, brave service or to pay respects to the fallen; it was a photo-op, an ego-boost, a campaign tactic. The media had sharply criticized Trump for planning to guest-host a boxing match on 9/11; in response, Trump went to the NYPD, where he knew he would be well received. (In 2020, the PBA (Police Benevolent Association), the NYPD’s largest police union, endorsed Trump, breaking a long-standing tradition of not issuing presidential endorsements). Trump went where his passive-aggressive rhetoric would not be challenged. He went where he, rather than America and the fallen heroes of 9/11, would be center stage. Clearly, for Donald Trump, self-promotion came first; America came second.
President Trump can’t be faulted for declining to participate in the formal ceremonies on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Surely, had he attended, he would have been uncomfortable among his constituents. And there’s nothing wrong with expressing oneself individually and forging one’s own path. But 9/11 calls for solemnity, remembrance, respect, honor, contemplation. There should be no campaigning that day, no “thumbs up” photos of grinning politicians, no political accusations. Grandstanding on such a day is as insensitive as guest-hosting a boxing match while the nation mourns.
Our nation’s public figures duly expressed sincere patriotism on the 20th anniversary of 9/11; Donald Trump expressed something altogether different. Actions speak louder than words.