Most of America’s former commanders-in-chief on Saturday joined President Biden in urging unity as the country remembers the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Former President Trump took a different tack, however.
He commemorated the 20th anniversary of the attacks which killed 2,977 people by lambasting Mr. Biden and the botched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“This is the 20th year of this war, and it should have been a year of victory and honor and strength. Instead, Joe Biden and his inept administration surrendered in defeat,” Mr. Trump said in pre-recorded remarks. “We will live on but sadly our country will be wounded for a long period of time.”
He continued to hammer Mr. Biden during a Saturday afternoon visit to an NYPD station, while also taking a shot at the former presidents’ remarks.
“All of a sudden we flee Afghanistan. What horrible timing. The 20th anniversary [of 9/11],” he said. “I watched the speeches and not one person spoke about the fact that three days ago we fled Afghanistan and we left Americans behind. I hate to talk about this on this day but people are saying why aren’t they talking about what the hell we did?”
It was a decidedly different tone than his predecessors and the current president, who all made urgent appeals to honor the 2,977 people who perished in the attacks by coming together as a nation.
Former President George W. Bush issued a stirring call for unity during the remembrance ceremony at the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
“In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people. When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own,” Mr. Bush said in a speech.
Mr. Bush said a “malign force” seems to have turned every disagreement into “a clash of cultures.”
“So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together,” he said. “I come without explanations or solutions. I can only tell you what I’ve seen. On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor’s hand and rally to the cause of one another. That is the America I know.”
Former presidents Obama and Clinton joined the families of those killed in the attack that destroyed the World Trade Center. Neither spoke at the Ground Zero memorial ceremony in lower Manhattan, but each issued statements emphasizing unity.
Mr. Obama said the first responders who rushed to respond to the attacks represent “what is best in America and what can and should bring us together.”
Mr. Clinton said America owes it to those who lost their lives 20 years ago “to come together again with unity, hope, compassion, and resolve.”
Former President Carter, who is America’s oldest living president at 96, did not attend any ceremonies. A spokesperson said he would spend the day in private.
The Biden administration has made unity the unofficial theme of the 20th anniversary of the attacks at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and on United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa.
In pre-recorded remarks released by the White House on Friday, Mr. Biden said one of the best attributes that emerged in the aftermath of 9/11 was “a true sense of national unity.”
“Unity and resilience, the capacity to recover and repair in the face of trauma,” Mr. Biden said. “Unity and service, the 9/11 generation stepping up to serve and protect in the face of terror, to get those terrorists who were responsible, to show everyone seeking to do harm to America that we will hunt you down and we will make you pay. That will never stop.”
The president acknowledged that distrust and bias towards Muslims after 9/11 tested America’s unity, but the country came through it less divided than before.
“We also witnessed the darker forces of human nature: fear and anger, resentment and violence against Muslim Americans, true and faithful followers of a peaceful religion. We saw a national unity bend. We learned that unity is the one thing that must never break. Unity is what makes us who we are, America at its best,” he said.
Mr. Trump, who spent four years defying presidential traditions, bucked his predecessors and the president by not calling for unity in his two-minute remarks. While he did not attend any public events, Mr. Trump was expected to visit Ground Zero after the morning remembrance ceremony.
He did express condolences to those who lost loved ones on 9/11 and praised the nation’s first responders. But he quickly pivoted, slamming Mr. Biden as “a fool” and “inept.”
“The leader of our country was made to look like a fool and that can never be allowed to happen,” Mr. Trump says. “It was caused by bad planning, incredible weakness, and leaders who truly didn’t understand what was happening.”
Mr. Trump spent most of his time torching Mr. Biden and his bungled ending of the war in Afghanistan, which began 20 years ago in response to the 9/11 attacks.
Mr. Biden ended America’s longest-ever conflict, but the withdrawal was marked by chaos and a rushed airlift as the Biden administration scrambled to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies.