As a political neophyte in 2016, Trump tapped into a seam of discontent with the economy and a sense that the Washington establishment was ignoring millions of people. His victimization of Mexican and Muslim immigrants in that campaign played on a fear of outsiders. Some Democrats believe his win was also born from a racist backlash to the country’s first Black commander-in-chief that benefited from his racist and false accusations about ex-President Barack Obama’s birthplace.
Already, what looks like a new attempt by Trump to reclaim the White House is shaping up as an even more sinister affair, not least because a twice-impeached President who already incited an insurrection and tried to subvert US democracy to stay in office would be seeking to regain the awesome powers of the presidency.
There was something rather sad that the most recent ex-President felt unable to join Biden and ex-Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama at official commemorations of the attacks. Trump has never been interested in being a member of the ex-President’s club. And his political brand as an outsider often relies on attacking pillars of the establishment like former Presidents. But his absence underscored gaping divides in a nation that is now unable to even join as one to mark the most unifying event in modern history: the national response to the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
How Trump politicized 9/11 commemorations
Trump did visit police officers and fire fighters in New York City on Saturday after being criticized for avoiding national observances and for later moonlighting as a commentator at a boxing match. But even then he could not risk political digs, boasting about his previous campaign and his administration, lying that the election in 2020 was “rigged” and delivering a broad hint that he would mount another presidential campaign.
“I know what I am going to do, but we are not supposed to be talking about it yet from the standpoint of campaign finance laws,” Trump told a questioner, before adding, “I think you are going to be happy, let me put it that way. I think you are going to be very happy.”
The former President also savaged Biden over the withdrawal from Afghanistan — a subject that is worthy of debate and critiques but perhaps not on a day devoted to memorializing the victims of the 2001 attacks.
“I hate to talk about it on this day,” Trump said, but then launched into a prolonged attack on Biden and claimed that had he been in charge, the situation would have been different — even though he set the stage for the pullout by capitulating to the Taliban’s withdrawal demands in a deal with the group.
Those waiting for Trump to behave with decorum or to become “presidential” have long since been disappointed. But his conduct in recent days has been radical even for an ex-President who spent four years tearing down the conventions of the presidency and political and legal norms.