He doesn’t like Trump. But he also didn’t want to see Biden making a big display of the day.
“One day off the campaign trail is not going to make or break the campaign,” Feal told me. Maybe Trump could have spoken from the Oval Office, and Biden from one of the spots he’s been using in Delaware the past few months to make it seem like he’s out and about without risking any real travel. “They should be sending out a message from wherever they are to the American people: Let’s bring back September 12. Let’s bring back that empathy and that sympathy,” he said.
On his way to New York in the morning, Biden told the reporters traveling with him, “I’m not going to talk about anything other than 9/11. We took all our advertising down. It’s a solemn day. That’s how we’re going to keep it.” Reporters on Air Force One were brought into a conference room to watch Trump observe a moment of silence en route to Pennsylvania. Later, in Shanksville, Trump talked about a unity that he never tries to achieve himself. “To every 9/11 family all across this nation: The first lady and I come to this hallowed ground deeply aware that we cannot fill the void in your heart or erase the terrible sorrow of this day,” he said. “We promise you the unwavering love, support, and devotion of ALL AMERICANS.” (The White House added the all-caps emphasis when it sent the text to reporters.)
To Burton and Feal, the campaigning still felt a little too cute, a little too cynical. That was only accentuated when just going to Shanksville became an act of one-upmanship—asked last week about possibly making a joint appearance with Trump there , Biden said, “I didn’t know he was going until after I announced I was going.” He added that he would be fine sharing a stage. “He is still the president of the United States.”
Feal doesn’t buy it. “It’s a day for reflection and remembrance, not a day to give Joe Biden or Donald Trump a bump in the polls,” he told me. A service project would make more sense than a photo op, he said. “They should be on a soup line instead of in Pennsylvania.”
Michael Barasch, one of the main lawyers for those still filing claims to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, told me that more than 100 of his clients have died of COVID-19. (A separate count found that at least 42 9/11 survivors have died of the disease.) He’s heard about almost all of the deaths after the funeral, from family members wondering if dying in the pandemic will make it harder for them to argue that the deceased developed conditions because of the attacks, despite the fact that those conditions made them more susceptible to dying in the pandemic in the first place.
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The parallels, Barasch said, make him angry.
“We were not prepared in 2001 when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and Shanksville were attacked; we did not have a sufficient amount of respiratory protection for first responders,” Barasch said. “Now, fast-forward 19 years—eight years of Bush, eight years of Obama, and three and a half years of the Trump administration—what don’t we have enough of? Respiratory protection.”