9/11 And The Need To Trust A President’s Words

When tragedy strikes, the American people must have faith that they can believe what the President says. When it comes to Donald Trump, that isn't possible.
President Donald Trump pauses during the 9/11 Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Sept. 11, 2017. (Source: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)

President Donald Trump pauses during the 9/11 Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Sept. 11, 2017. (Source: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)

Eighteen years ago, I was a new pulpit rabbi in Waco, Texas. I was just heading to the synagogue when I heard the news. Planes flew into both towers of the World Trade Center. Then, the Pentagon, nerve center of our all-powerful military. Then, a hijacked plane crashed in Pennsylvania because the passengers fought back knowing they’d die. Otherwise, either the Capitol or the White House would have been demolished.

It wasn’t my first experience with terror. I’d lived through it in Jerusalem. And most surprisingly, in Oklahoma City on that harrowing day, April 19.

This was the most discombobulating of all. We often focus on the grief in New York. But it wasn’t just New York that was attacked. It was the country.

Rabbis across the country were preparing for our major fall holidays. Those are the sermons you work on for weeks. We all tossed our formerly great ideas and went back to the drawing board.

9/11 shook the nation as nothing in my lifetime had.

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People flocked to the synagogue that day. We weren’t having services. The same phenomenon occurred in other synagogues, churches, and mosques across the country. We all needed comfort and solace.

And we needed our President. Full disclaimer: I have never voted Republican; I was not a fan of George W. Bush. But that didn’t matter. He was the President, the only one we could look to in such distress. Never before or since have I so looked forward to a presidential speech.

In that moment, President George W. Bush did not disappoint. He was the steadying presence we needed, He sought to unify, heal, and keep hope alive. He urged us not to blame this on Muslims. All Americans stood together.

Yes, Bush went on to launch the Iraq War, which was an enormous mistake fueled by lies, but ensuing policies are not the point of this article. This is about 9/11 and how we got through that period. And having a President where we could trust the basic facts of what had occurred in the attack. Whether or not we liked him or his policies, that didn’t matter. He had our trust and respect at that moment in time.

God forbid, such an attack should happen today. We don’t expect it now, but we didn’t expect it then.

Do we have a leader to comfort and unify us?

Oklahoma City was my home when Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City. Until 9/11, that was the worst terror attack in our country. And in the heartland! President Clinton flew there, comforted us, spoke from his heart at a national ceremony in Oklahoma City. He rushed us aid and law enforcement assistance. And we in Oklahoma knew that the President — and thus the country — cared and shared our pain. Incidentally, this terror was orchestrated by a young white nationalist.

In every instance of national vulnerability, most of our Presidents stood as leaders we could trust and look to for hope. Until now.

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Take the recent attempt by President Trump to bring Taliban leaders to Camp David this past weekend. We could say the Taliban didn’t directly attack us, but they sure didn’t mind harboring those who did. The Taliban have plenty of American blood on their hands, and they would have been in our country just before 9/11. Didn’t the White House realize that this was an ugly slap in the face to America? That it was pulling a scab from a deep wound?

Camp David has long been regarded as a secular holy ground. That’s where Presidents bring our most important allies to talk. And here President Carter brought President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel to do the impossible, forge a peace accord between those countries.

Wanting to bring Taliban terrorists to such a place on the eve of 9/11 starkly showed the bitter truth: in a national emergency, we would have no steadying hand, no leader who would be that all-important presence.

While last week, the nation was embroiled in the madness of having a President who could admit to his mistake about Alabama and the hurricane, we faced a deeper problem than the idiocy of “sharpie-gate.” In a time of danger, we had no leader to trust. Our President could not be trusted. He does not understand that mistakes are okay and that we all make them. We needed to trust him. We needed to trust that he would appropriately direct life-saving resources. Our nation does not have that.

Instead, we had a President doctoring a map to prove he was right and forcing the NOAA to defend his lie. While the Birmingham, Alabama, branch of the NWS immediately corrected the President’s mistake, the NOAA itself announced that the President was correct. We cannot overstate the danger of having an organization like the NOAA giving misleading information. Lives are at stake in these cases. Further, according to The New York Times, the White House itself pressured the NOAA to give false, dangerous information.

President Trump has lied over 12,000 times, according to The Washington Post. President Trump has twisted the government into a vessel for his disinformation. The Justice Department lied about the Mueller report and other agencies have worked overtime to gaslight the American people.

Today we remember so much: death, destruction, fear, and heroism. And what we often forget, presidential leadership from an era in which we could still trust, hope, and come together as Americans.

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Opinion // 9/11 / Donald Trump