The events of 9/11 have gripped our national consciousness for 16 years. They’ve been used by politicians to justify everything from decade-spanning wars to immigration policy to enhanced airport security. But there is only one politician who has used the events of that day to draw attention to the industrial might of his real estate empire.
Surprising perhaps no one, that would be our sitting president.
It’s a remark that many are peripherally aware of, but sometimes gets lost in the jumble of extraordinary vulgarities from the man who has used this date to give a special shout out to his “haters and losers.” But on the first 9/11 anniversary with Trump in the Oval Office, it’s certainly worth a reexamination.
On the evening of the attacks — quite literally before the dust had settled — Trump called in to the local news station WWOR to share his perspective as the billionaire owner of some 20 Manhattan buildings. When prompted to speak about the status of his 71-story tower located near ground zero, Trump had this to offer:
Well it was an amazing phone call, I mean 40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest, and then when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second-tallest. And now it’s the tallest.
Some may hesitate to call the remarks bragging, since Trump was asked about the building, and its height is potentially relevant to its vulnerability. But I’m not so inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
This is, after all, the same man who bragged about the ratings of an episode of Face the Nation he appeared on as being the highest “since the World Trade Center came down.” And then, of course, there is his history of 9/11 fabrications.
Many may recall his demonstrably false claims that he saw Muslims in New Jersey cheering the towers’ collapse that day. But through the years he’s also variously claimed, with zero proof provided, that he lost hundreds of friends in the attacks, that he deserved a $150,000 payout intended for small businesses affected by 9/11 because he helped people that day, that he would donate to victims funds (he didn’t) and that he witnessed people jumping from the towers from his penthouse windows… four miles uptown.
Maybe his comments as a private citizen shouldn’t be scrutinized as heavily. After all, in 2001 the idea of “President Trump” was about as ridiculous as Abraham Lincoln leaving political life to become a hotel magnate and beauty pageant producer. People probably weren’t expecting a healing, revelatory oration from him to ease the pain of that day.
Though in a different corner of the country, another future president who few were taking seriously made a drastically different statement. In September, 2001, Barack Obama hadn’t yet ascended to the U.S. Senate. At the time, he was serving his second term as a lowly Illinois state senator. In a statement to the local Hyde Park Herald, he laid out his thoughts on the attacks in characteristically eloquent terms.
The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity.
The truth is, regardless of any official White House statements, the Trump of 2001 and the President Trump of 2017 are one in the same. We saw this during his visit to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey with such remarks as “What a crowd, what a turnout,” as he addressed victims.
If we’re not going to hold Trump’s remarks to the standards of traditionally presidential language, how about merely to those of an American citizen, or simply a human being?
We’re often told that we must never forget the events of that unimaginably devastating morning. And that’s true. So on this first September 11th of the Trump era, let’s all take a moment to remember his gut instinct to the news that 2,996 Americans had been murdered was not sympathy, was not remorse — but to brag about his property.
I am officially tired of winning.
[image via screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.