We often remember that on the day of September 11th, 2001, Donald Trump bragged about having the tallest remaining building in Manhattan.
I don’t think we talk often enough about how it wasn’t even true.
I understand why lying about something like that is secondary in many people’s minds to finding it bragworthy in the first place, but I do wonder sometimes if it’s been repeated so many times without qualification that some among us have either forgotten or never knew that it was a lie.
To me, this remark illustrates something crucial to the character of Donald Trump and how he views his current position. It is echoed in his habit, now two years’ strong, of touting diplomatic progress with the Taliban on the eve of September 11th, which at the very least strikes us as a failure to read the room.
Very simply, Donald Trump did not feel attacked on September 11th. A New Yorker who sought to make Manhattan his spiritual home, he did not feel like devastation raining down on the island affected him. He did not feel like an attack that damaged the iconic skyline had anything to do with him, even while he had spent his life trying to become Mr. Manhattan. He did not think that the most devastating attack by a foreign power on US soil concerned him, except to the extent he could turn it to his advantage.
I don’t mean to suggest that Americans taking 9/11 personally is an unalloyed good. In the years that have followed that September morning, the drumbeat of “we’re under attack here!” has been used to cover all manner of sins, committed at home and abroad.
But Donald Trump, a man whose own strongest allies can often only defend his worst conduct by saying “Well, he’s a fighter.” and “If you come for him, you have to expect him to defend himself.” does not consider an attack on the United States, an attack against his home town and his adopted borough, to have anything to do with him.
This is worrying. It suggests he doesn’t see himself as a representative of the people because he doesn’t see himself as one of us in the first place. He owes us nothing, not even a moment’s consideration. His conduct from the very beginning has suggested he views the president as being the boss of the country, not the public’s servant.
His blasé attitude is not a measured response, which would be good. It’s not a determination to heal the wounds of 9/11. His repeated commitment to ending the war in Afghanistan — which exists side by side with his desire to drop bigger and better bombs on it — is because he fundamentally does not understand why we’re there.
That’s a sentiment shared by many, but I mean, he really doesn’t understand, not even why we went there in the first place. He thinks 9/11 is something that happened to other people, and he doesn’t see why what is now his military should be involved in avenging a few thousand people and some companies he doesn’t even own.
And you know, if having someone in office who feels no desire for vengeance actually resulted in peace, I’d take it whether it was coming from a lack of empathy or an abundance of it. I would accept the leadership of people who just plain don’t get why the country was so fired up on 9/12 if it meant we were rolling back our undeclared wars and our drone programs and rolling back our surveillance state and security theater and racist no-fly lists and “random” screenings instead of looking forward to our 20th consecutive year of freedom being just another word for nothing left for the terrorists to win.
Trump is not doing any of those things, though. The dramatic opening number of his so-called presidency was the Muslim travel ban. At every turn he has reinforced the xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia that has been the enduring legacy of 9/11, while turning the Department of Homeland Security into his own personal gestapo.
He’s very happy to make use of the tools both formal and informal that post-9/11 policymaking gave him, but that’s as far as he cares. The fall of the twin towers did not leave him with the tallest building in Manhattan, but it has left him sitting on a taller throne.
And what is there for him not to love about that?