Because Donald Trump has to destroy everything in his path, why not the true history 9/11? Trump would have us revise and edit our historical memory of 9/11, turning it from a unifying narrative of heroism, tragedy, and war and recast it to serve the political ends of a man unworthy of the presidency.
Let's be specific, because history matters. Here is Trump's claim, which he’s been obsessively defending for weeks now:
“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”
Trump's Big Lie, as every fact checker from across the political spectrum has verified, is both simple and egregious: “thousands and thousands.” On the most-recorded day of our age, no record exists of “thousands and thousands” because it would have been a story of immediate, devastating consequences not only for the Muslims involved, but for this nation. It would have blown back immediately both on Muslims and on President Bush and Mayor Giuliani, who had called on Americans to refrain from assigning collective guilt.
Did any American Muslim celebrate 9/11? I'm sure some did. There are assholes in every walk of life, and in a metro area with 10 million people and a nation of 350 million, I'd be shocked if a couple of idiots didn't act out. But it's not a defense of Muslim extremism to stand for the truth of history.
Despite being called out on this lie repeatedly, Team Trump has produced nothing whatsoever to back up the “thousands and thousands” claim. Instead, they've produced a handful of anecdotes, secondhand news stories and hazy memories of what might have been a trivial number of Muslims celebrating the attacks.
They've failed—of course—to produce video, photos, news stories, police reports, eyewitnesses, or any other evidence for Trump’s “thousands and thousands” claim, and they never will. And when cornered with the facts, Trump’s talk-radio and online cheerleaders allege that a massive media conspiracy is keeping all the documentary evidence supporting the claim under wraps.
So why is this different from any other part of the Trumpendammerung cycle of outrageous statements, tornadoes of lies, and shoot-from-the-lip populism? Because we owe history, and the dead of that terrible September day something better.
We should tell the true stories of that day to honor the memory and sacrifice of those who perished on 9/11 and in the long wars since. We should remember the real events, not transform them into post-hoc, politically expedient exaggerations meant to amplify Donald Trump's bravado.
The deaths of thousands at the hands of 19 Islamic radicals dispatched by Osama Bin Laden created an inflection point in our history, leading to tragedies and victories, losses and triumphs, in what is becoming a generation of war. We should tell the honest, painful stories of 9/11 because it dishonors the memory of heroes to invent a phony cast of villains when the actual terrorists were terrible enough to tear open this nation's heart.
Trump is trying to write himself into a heroic narrative at the cost of truth, and of the memories of the real heroes who perished that day. While Trump sat staring at his television and imagining Muslims celebrating, better men and women than he will ever be died in Lower Manhattan.
They were heroes like Terry Hatton of FDNY Rescue Company 1, who charged in to the Towers without a moment's hesitation, never knowing his wife was pregnant with their daughter. They were men of faith like Father Mychal Judge, who spent his last moments comforting the doomed as the Towers fell around them, praying "Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!"
They were immigrants to this country like Rick Rescorla—people who fought our wars, embraced our values more deeply than many born here, and died as heroes trying to save his charges in the Towers. They were men like Tom Burnett, whose last whispered conversation to his wife from Flight 93 was, “I know we’re going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it.”
They were stockbrokers, secretaries, office techs, lawyers, waiters, firefighters, cops, and EMTs with stories of heroism and grace. They were Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and everything in between.
The families they left behind deserve a truthful recounting of their end and of that day.
I should know by now that arguing with diehard Trump supporters is largely futile but, if any of you are reading this, I pray you’ll take this issue seriously.
Two equally grim prospects can explain your behavior. The first that you know Trump's claim is untrue, but enjoy living in his Reality Distortion Field simply to tweak mainstream America and the news media. You've become inhabitants of a funhouse-mirror version of the liberal culture and media you mock: insular, aggressively contrarian, obsessed with narrative over fact and anger over history.
The second is that you want it to be true so badly that you'll invent an imagined outrage rather than focus on the actual, terrible problem of Islamic radicalism (as we saw this week in California) because that fight is harder, more complex and more painful than the hokey nostrums of Trump's “plan” to fight ISIS. (“Take duh oil! Bomb da shit outta dem!” “Muslim database!”)
Playing out Donald Trump's lies doesn't mean you're fighting some political correct media trope about Muslims or that you're teaching the press a lesson. It doesn't mean you're confronting radical Islam. It doesn't mean you're bravely revealing a media cover-up. It doesn't mean that you're going to teach the Republican establishment a lesson.
All it means is you're part of the profoundly recursive Trump dynamic; he feeds your fears, prejudices, and atavistic desires for revenge against your catalog of demons, be they Muslims, Mexicans, or Republicans who fail to kneel before the Donald. You feed his monstrous, boundless ego and like the master con artist he is, he shovels you a fresh line of easily-digested outrage and boob-bait rhetoric.
Embracing the thoroughly discredited claims of a serial liar and proven fabulist over on this history of 9/11 isn't some bold rebellion or principled stand. It's an insult to the dead.