Once Again, Trump Tries To Insert Himself Into Other People’s Heroism
Once again, President Trump can't help but make something meant to recognize real American heroes all about himself.
On Monday, President Trump signed into law the long-overdue bill that will effectively guarantee lifetime funding to the compensation fund for first responders who worked at Ground Zero in the days, weeks, and months after the September 11th attacks. In and of itself, that was a good thing and especially appreciated considering that it is finally the end of a nearly two decade long battle by those first responders and those who support them to ensure that they are covered for the illnesses they continue to suffer from thanks to the time they spent at Ground Zero.
Even as he did so, though, Trump couldn’t help but engage in self-aggrandizement and make claims that appear to be verifiably false:
Donald Trump has always had a bit of Walter Mitty in him. But on Monday morning, in a speech to first responders and others impacted by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he took his fantastical memory of himself to new and not-at-all-appropriate heights.
“I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder,” Trump said. “But I was down there. I spent a lot of time down there with you.”
Let’s be clear about what Trump is doing here: He is associating himself — very closely — with the men and women who were the first to respond to planes being crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. People who continue to suffer health issues due to their jobs.
Not surprisingly, Trump’s claims are not supported by any credible evidence:
So, what was Trump actually doing on September 11, 2001?One thing he was doing was getting on the phone with WWOR’s Alan Marcus to talk about the attacks and their aftermath. It was in that interview that Trump said this about a property — 40 Wall Street — that he owned:
“40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest—and then, when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second-tallest. And now it’s the tallest.”Yeah. He really said that.
And as Politico’s Michael Kruse noted in a story about what Trump (and Hillary Clinton) were doing on September 11, 2001, Trump was a bystander on the day — watching the events unfold from his offices (and home) at Trump Tower, which was several miles from Ground Zero.
Writes Kruse:“In the immediate aftermath of the worst terrorist attacks in the history of the country, Trump talked publicly mostly about the buildings, and his buildings, and market ramifications and the character and resiliency of the citizens of the city where he’s lived almost his entire life. But reporters then had only so much reason to ask him about issues of national security or foreign policy.”
Several days after the attacks, Trump did an interview with a German news station just a few blocks from Ground Zero.
And according to a Newsday report on September 14, Trump had been spotted at Ground Zero the previous day:
“The sight of Donald Trump, every hair in place and impeccably dressed in a black suit, pressed white shirt and red tie, walking into the plaza with his cellular phone to his ear.”‘No, no. The building’s gone,’ he says into the phone.”
The New York Times did some fact-checking of its own:
According to Richard Alles, a retired deputy chief with the New York Fire Department, Mr. Trump was not a presence at ground zero.
“I spent many months there myself, and I never witnessed him,” Mr. Alles, who was at the Rose Garden event on Monday, said in an interview. “He was a private citizen at the time. I don’t know what kind of role he could have possibly played.”
Mr. Alles said he had vivid memories of meeting Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, who became an integral part of passing the bill after the attacks. Ms. Maloney did not attend the event at the White House on Monday.
Mr. Trump’s claims about where he was and what he was doing during the attacks date back years, with him often inserting and removing details along the way, Timothy O’Brien, the author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” said in an interview.
“Donald Trump was absolutely not a first responder by any standard definition,” Mr. O’Brien said. “If we’re defining it as the first wave of people who arrived at ground zero to provide help, he was not in that wave.”
On the day of the attack, Mr. Trump called into WWOR-TV to say that he had a window in Trump Tower that looked directly over the World Trade Center.
As the buildings burned, the show’s anchors praised his real estate prowess in a wide-ranging interview. Mr. Trump said that if he had decided to run for president in 2000, he would have taken a “hard line” on the perpetrators, and that he had “somebody down there” near the attack who had witnessed at least 10 people jumping out of the World Trade Center towers.
By the time Mr. Trump hit the campaign trail in 2015, those initial stories had evolved into a mishmash of unproven claims: At a rally, he said he had watched people jump with his own eyes — possibly through a “solid gold” telescope — at Trump Tower. That claim is unproven, and Trump Tower is about four miles from the World Trade Center site. He also shared another widely debunked claimthat Muslims in New Jersey were celebrating after the planes hit.
In the days after the attack, Mr. Trump ventured outside of Trump Tower to provide commentary, which largely focused on real estate and estimating the building costs of recovery. In an interview with a German television station on Sept. 13, 2001, Mr. Trump was asked if he would be personally involved in the recovery effort.
“I have a lot of men down here right now,” Mr. Trump said. “We have over 100 and we have 125 coming. So we’ll have a couple of hundred people down here.” He added: “We will be involved in some form helping to reconstruct.”
On Sept. 14, 2001, a Newsday report noted that Mr. Trump was in the vicinity of ground zero speaking on his cellphone: “No, no. The building’s gone,” Mr. Trump said over the phone.
A photo taken of him on Sept. 18, 2001, has been used in a widely circulated meme that claims Mr. Trump personally traveled to ground zero with hundreds of workers to help uncover victims.
Mr. O’Brien, the author, said the size of the Trump Organization at the time was “a little bit over a dozen people,” which would have made it impossible to send hundreds of people to participate in the relief effort.
At the time, Mr. Trump had a large number of casino workers based in Atlantic City, but there is no documented evidence of him marshaling his resources to aid in the relief effort.
“He’s very comfortable propagandizing that event for political purposes,” Mr. O’Brien said. “Even in the face of tragedy, he can’t help but self-promote and self-aggrandize.”
Also unproven: the donations Mr. Trump said he gave to charities involved in the relief effort. In 2016, Scott M. Stringer, the New York City comptroller, said 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.
This isn’t the first time that the President has made false or at least unverifiable claims about what he witnessed on September 11, 2001. As a candidate, and indeed shortly after the attacks themselves, he claimed to have seen people dancing in New Jersey celebrating the attacks, a claim that has been circulated among anti-Muslim agitators for years but which has never been verified:
Perhaps Mr. Trump’s most incendiary use of the terrorist attacks as a political point was made at a campaign rally in Birmingham, Ala., in 2015.
Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, told supporters that on the day of the attack, in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, “thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”
Mr. Trump said the celebrants were Muslim. Mr. Trump continued to use the talking point throughout his campaign, even as reports of such celebrations were repeatedly debunked.
Pointing to reporting from The Washington Post in 2001 that said the police had looked into allegations of celebrations, Mr. Trump expressed vindication, and mocked the physical disability of a Post reporter whom he said corroborated his belief.
This President has always been a liar and a fabulist, so it’s neither surprising nor shocking that he would be lying and exaggerating about this as well. At the same time, though, the sight of seeing him essentially engaging in what amounts to stolen valor while signing a bill designed to help people who are suffering to this day from cancer and other diseases thanks to months of exposure to the remnants of the World Trade Center is really quite sickening.
Instead of making the story on Monday about the first responders and their families, Trump once again chose to make the story about himself. I do not claim to be a mental health expert, but this seems to be clearly indicative of some kind of narcissistic personality disorder that requires him to place himself in situations where he regularly makes claims that he doesn’t need to. He could have used Monday to be bipartisan and emphasize, as his two immediate predecessors have, the sacrifices of the first responders, he had to make the day about himself. On some level that’s not just outrageous, it’s also pretty sad and pathetic.