The anniversary of 9/11 is always a difficult day, but I’m finding every anniversary exceptionally difficult since Trump took office. He’s incapable of authentic reverence, he can barely complete a speech in full sentences and when he does read from a prompter it’s painful to watch. His need to make everything about himself, which is offensive on normal days, is especially hard on days like this. There’s something about Donald Trump still lying yesterday, during his official duties at the Pentagon, about how helpful he was in the aftermath of 9/11, that I just refuse to overlook.
Trump spoke at the Pentagon for a 9/11 observance ceremony, where he recounted his own memories from the day that occurred 18 years ago:
“I was looking out of a window from a building in Midtown Manhattan, directly at the World Trade Center, when I saw a second plane, at a tremendous speed, go into the second tower. It was then that I realized the world was going to change. I was no longer going to be – and it could never, ever be – that innocent place that I thought it was….Soon after, I went down to Ground Zero with men who worked for me to try to help in any little way that we could.”
Most of this statement is a lie. Trump Tower, in Midtown Manhattan, is four miles from Ground Zero, which would make his ability to see the second plane hit in real time pretty unlikely. No doubt he was watching it on television at that point, as was the rest of the world, but he has likely conflated a false memory to give him sick bragging rights. We also know that Trump only helped after the attacks by speaking to reporters about how he was helping, rather than actually helping.
In the clip below, just two days after the attack, Trump tells a German television crew, “We have over 100 and we have about 125 coming. So we’ll have a couple of hundred people down here.” He continues to tell the reporter, “They’re very brave and what they’re doing is amazing, and we’ll be involved in some form to reconstruct.”
Donald Trump is also known to circulate this publicity photo (seen below) when asked about his lack of participation in 9/11 relief efforts, but there is no proof that he did anything other than create a false record for publicity. It has been noted that at the time of the Twin Towers attacks, the Trump Organization was “a little bit over a dozen people,” which would have made it highly unlikely that hundreds of people were sent by him to participate in any kind of relief effort. Had Trump hired workers, such as his casino workers based in Atlantic City, there would be documentation, especially given the health conditions any 9/11 workers would now have and the documentation demands of a union.
Trump is incapable of focusing on anything other than himself. A prime example of this is the video below where Donald Trump called in to a news program and boasted that as a result of the attacks on 9/11, he now had the tallest building in New York City. Alan Marcus, who was working that day for WWOR as an on-air analyst, told Politico that Trump “is the brand manager of Trump, and he is going to tout that brand, and he does it reflexively…. Even on that day.”
There is also proof that Donald Trump pledged a $10,000 donation to the Twin Towers Fund as part of a drive led by Howard Stern, but there is no proof of any payment. In 2016, Scott M. Stringer, the New York City comptroller, confirmed there was no evidence that a $10,000 donation pledge that Mr. Trump made after the attacks had ever been given to a charity called the Twin Towers Fund. So we have confirmed story after story about how Trump made claims to assist with either physical help or money, but it’s hard to find evidence that many of these tales were ever based on fact.
As bad as all of these lies seem, it actually gets worse than Trump failing to make good on promises for assistance. In May of 2016, Donald Trump actually benefitted from a post 9/11 victim fund, created to help small businesses around Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks and pocketed $150,000 in taxpayer money for his property on Wall Street. When Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), whose district includes Ground Zero and Lower Manhattan, wrote an open letter to Trump asking for a refund, Trump responded by saying that his business “received this small amount of money after qualifying, given the limited number of employees working at the property.”
To be eligible for the recovery program funds, small firms had to prove they had been "physically or economically damaged by the attacks, and located on or south of 14th Street in Lower Manhattan." Trump stated publicly that the grant "was probably a reimbursement for the fact that I allowed people, for many months, to stay in the building, use the building and store things in the building…" But, PolitiFact confirmed the public portion of his company’s grant application makes no mention of providing shelter. Also, this list of Trump’s 9/11 lies is not exhaustive, just illustrative.
Yesterday’s ceremony at the Pentagon was another chance for Donald Trump to showcase his own hubris and continue to brag about stories that have been proven false for some time. He recounts lies in the form of epic tales that he weaves into a somber ceremony that was never intended to be about him. This is what he does best - he lies to a captive audience, who feels bound by the duty he can’t begin to comprehend, a duty he shirked with another lie about bone spurs.
What seemed particularly insulting this year is that his performance came after a scandal involving the Taliban at Camp David that we should still be talking about. The recent firing of his National Security Adviser John Bolton over “disagreements in policy” indicates that Trump might have just been crazy enough to have invited a group responsible for killing thousands of Americans on our own soil to the vacation retreat of the President of the United States. Rather than reeling in disgrace over his poor judgment for the inability to show respect for the impending 9/11 holiday, Trump chose to roll some P.R. spin into his speech yesterday, to defend himself instead of honoring the fallen.
I don’t know if it was just the difficulty of the day, or my own personal presidential fatigue, but yesterday was too much. It reminded me of a time that seems long gone, when the leader of the free world could at least be counted on to do his duty on sacred days where we mourn as a country. It made me long for a time when we had a baseline of decency in the person who represented us all. Some American Presidents have been much better than others at giving speeches that move our hearts and comfort our souls when we need it most. But at the very least, they have all been capable of showing respect for the country they represent. Until Donald Trump.
To all of you who had a hard time yesterday made worse by the words and actions of Trump, I’m sorry. To all of you who have suffered from the loss of a loved one on that tragic day or the memory of the trauma from being there, I’m so sorry. To those of you who are ill and dealing with the toxic fall-out of serving your country on one of our worst days, I am so grateful for you — you are the best of America and I promise to stay inspired by your bravery. And to all of you who are tired from the continued sacrilege of the values and decency of the United States of America, I’m here with you and resolve that the despicable actions of a malignant narcissist will only make me fight harder. In the words of Todd Beamer, who sacrificed his life aboard United Flight 93 to stop evil men from hurting more people — “Let’s roll.”
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Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.