Too much has been written about the Pennsylvania field where Flight 93 crashed for me to add meaning to the conversation. I will mention that now, 17 years later, they have erected another memorial—wind chimes that tinkle in the breeze and that when President Trump spoke at the field on Tuesday morning, they ran out of chairs.
Over those 17 years, we have done some peculiar things to reckon with the loss of thousands of Americans. We went to war, then stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier and lied about the war being over. We shipped Osama bin Laden off to Hell and, most recently, we shipped Donald Trump to the White House.
The line between 9/11 and Donald Trump is starkest when you look at his rhetoric toward Muslims—arguably the most imbecilic bit of Trump’s early presidential run was his assertion that he personally witnessed Muslims celebrating on the roofs of New Jersey. It was only a few months after he announced his presidential run that Trump told an Alabama crowd, “Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.” Of course, that was a heap of nonsense but his rally-goers in Alabama swallowed the hook.
Trump’s assertion that he witnessed something that never happened was a bizarre statement and an obvious lie, and it signaled a turn in the way politics works because, when ABC’s George Stephanopoulos called Trump out on his bullshit, the then-candidate didn’t back down, saying instead, “It was on television. I saw it.” Politicians caught in a lie are supposed to circle the wagons or feign ignorance. They’re definitely not supposed to say I saw it on television.
In the years since that morning, we’ve done a lot to make ourselves feel safe and electing Donald Trump is probably one of those precautions.
In the 17 years since that morning, we’ve done a lot to make ourselves feel safe and electing Donald Trump is probably one of those precautions. If you ask enough Trump supporters why they’re backing 45, at some point, one of them will answer with a variation of “he’s going to keep us safe.”
But in spite of our new drones and new president, Americans don’t seem to believe that we’re any safer from terrorism. In February, the CATO Institute put out an exhaustive report detailing these fears, and the think-tank concluded “special fear and anxiety have been stoked and maintained by the fact that Islamist terrorism seems to be part of a large and hostile conspiracy that is international in scope.”
In part, we don’t fare much better because there are far too many people with far too big of microphones who are “stoking and maintaining” that fear of the ominous other. Those sort of people telling you that they saw thousands of New Jersey residents celebrating on 9/11. Of course, all the statistics point to the fact that Islamic terrorism kills very few Americans annually—you’re more likely to be killed by your bathtub than by a terrorist. But, in Trump’s America, a place where “I saw it on television” passes as irrefutable proof, why would we bother with something as pesky as facts?
For my generation, those of us who were in classrooms on that terrible September morning, this never-ending fear has been all that we’ve ever known. We may not remember the first time we saw our wives or the details of our high school graduation, but we remember that morning. And we’ve elected politicians and banned immigrants from the Middle East and passed the Patriot Act and done a dozen other things to make ourselves feel safer, but it hasn’t worked. And it probably never will.