After twenty years, commemoration has become routine. The wreaths, flowers and flags. The chimes of the bell at the exact time on September 11, 2001 in New York, the planes hit the towers of the Word Trade Center. Reading the names of the dead. The bereaved bereaved in black. And the millions of memories of that painful day that come back every year, which some people can hardly bear, while others share them almost covetously on Twitter with the rest of the world.
All of that happened again on this Saturday, on which the USA celebrated the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. And because it was a big anniversary, the 20th, the commemoration was a little bigger and more solemn than in previous years. President Joe Biden insisted on traveling to all three locations hit by the terror on 9/11. In the morning he visited Ground Zero in Manhattan. The World Trade Center had stood there, and on September 11, 2001, most people had died there. Then Biden flew to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where one of the planes that the assassins had turned into weapons had crashed in a field. That afternoon the President commemorated the victims of the terror at the Pentagon in Virginia.
Demonstratively absent: Donald Trump
The incumbent president was supported by three former members. Bill Clinton, George. W. Bush and Barack Obama accompanied Biden at the memorial service in New York. On the other hand, Donald Trump was demonstratively absent. He stopped by a Manhattan fire station alone at lunchtime, said a few sentences, and had selfies taken. Then he went to Florida to host a boxing spectacle that evening – for what he himself said was an “obscene” sum of money.
You can read a lot about the state of America in the year 2021 from this distribution of roles. Because the 9/11 commemoration ritual actually includes Americans assuring each other on that day that they are united, perhaps not in all everyday matters, but when they do it’s all about life and death. One people, one nation, united in grief for the victims and in anger for the perpetrators. The appearance of Clinton, Bush, Obama and Biden was supposed to demonstrate that: a Republican and three Democrats who together remember the dead, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as American – that was a planned gesture.
But the fact that Trump, to whom a substantial portion of the Republicans in the country is still loyal, had a separate program, naturally showed that this unity is fiction. Bush addressed this openly in a speech he delivered in Shanksville later that afternoon. “Our policy now consists only of appeals to anger, fear and aversion,” he complained. The former president compared the September 11, 2001 assassins to the Trump supporters who stormed the Washington Capitol on January 6, 2021 to prevent Congress from confirming Biden’s election victory. “There is little cultural similarity between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists here at home,” Bush said. “But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to tarnish our national symbols, they are all children of the same corrupt spirit.” It is “our duty to face them”.
Bush did not name Trump. But it was obvious that he thought the ex-president, who practically called on the demonstrators to storm the Capitol on January 6, was one of those depraved children. Also that Biden is of the same opinion. Bush gave “a very good speech, a really good speech,” Biden later praised.
In this respect, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was probably not a day that brought Americans together. On the contrary: it was a day when a former president described the supporters of another former president de facto as terrorists and the incumbent president nodded.
Remembrance in the shadow of developments in Afghanistan
The day was difficult for Biden for another reason. Whatever the White House’s imagination for the commemorations – that twenty years after the terror in Afghanistan the Taliban, under whose protection Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden organized the attacks, was probably not part of the plan. Biden had given September 11th as the date by which the last American soldier should have left Afghanistan. But the expectation was that the Afghan army could keep the Taliban in check for at least a few months afterwards.
It didn’t turn out like that. And maybe that contributed to Biden’s decision not to give a speech on Saturday. The president could not have spoken seriously about America’s victory in the “war on terror” that began after 9/11. The US has taken revenge on Osama bin Laden, he was killed ten years ago. But the images of the Americans fleeing Kabul are fresher and more powerful than anything Biden could have said.
As a result, the American public did not hear more from their president on Saturday than the few sentences that Biden threw at the journalists who were traveling with them. And they, too, were rather brash and defensive: “Could al-Qaeda come back? Yeah. But you know what? Al-Qaeda is back, only in other places. What should the strategy be? Shall we go wherever al-Qaeda is? , march in and leave troops? Really. ” One can argue whether that was the right message on the 20th anniversary of the largest terrorist attack in US history.