This morning – and I say “this morning” despite the fact I’m writing this about 12 hours in advance of publication – President Donald Trump, a native of New York City, will preside over what is described as a “mostly solemn and nonpartisan occasion” with ceremonies at both Ground Zero and the Pentagon. (Vice President Pence will handle duties in Shanksville, PA at the Flight 93 Memorial.)
Because he’s a native New Yorker, Donald Trump has a unique perspective on the event. Most of his critics point to a declaration The Donald made in the wake of the attack that his 40 Wall Street building became the tallest in the city thanks to the demise of the World Trade Center. On the other hand, President Trump made a very solemn Patriot Day declaration on Friday, bringing it up to date by citing our response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. One notable departure from the Obama years, though, is the dropping of the “National Day of Service and Remembrance” from the release (although Trump alludes to it in the body of his text, in keeping with the Obama-era law recognizing September 11 as such.)
Some of the conditions which led to the 9/11 attack (and its ongoing response on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq) have been addressed by President Trump, although his main initiative of a temporary pause on accepting refugees and visitors from nations deemed to be potential sponsors of terror was thwarted by a series of activist judges. However, on a broader foreign palette, we have had little change in Middle East policy over the last several months, particularly in dealing with a poorly-drafted nuclear agreement with Iran: well-respected former U.N. ambassador and foreign policy hawk John Bolton is on record as wishing Trump would back out of that bad deal.
Regardless of what policy initiatives come and go, though, the passage of time insures that those who recall the incident first-hand are a dwindling majority. The number of Americans under age 21 now rests at about 27%, and if you add in those who weren’t Americans when the attack occurred you’re probably talking a number north of 3 out of 10 Americans who have little to no memory of the day because they weren’t born yet, too young to understand it, living somewhere else at the time, or some combination of those factors. I know I won’t forget where I was that day but the 17-year-old in the house won’t recall because she was only a toddler. The day may be remembered at school, but even then only in passing.
And while we live in an era where being patriotic isn’t necessarily cause for suspicion by certain groups as it was not so long ago, we’re a long way from the fever pitch we had in the months after the attack. Then again, perhaps our nation has given us cause to be cynical after such a Long War with few tangible results. One could readily surmise that, with our superior military firepower, we could have made short work of any of these tinpot regimes if we put our mind to it and employed more of a scorched-earth policy. Lord knows we were willing to do so in 2001 but President George W. Bush preferred a coalition approach. Some may call that kicking the can down the road.
It’s frightening to think that we could be on the doorstep of another such attack, but the possibility is there and it’s not necessarily going to involve Islamic terrorism. So-called “suitcase nukes” or an EMP attack that North Korea could be capable of delivering would bring tragic results on a scale many times that of 9/11 – and we really can’t defend that well against them. Yet the response, some civil libertarians argue, would be tantamount to living in a police state.
Walking that fine line is now the job of a 71-year-old man who’s prone to fits of pique as expressed on Twitter but was supported and elected by a group of patriotic Americans who believed he would be the one to get tough on these threats. Since this is the first of what could be eight occasions where Trump commemorates 9/11, this is the one that sets the tempo.