During a memorial Tuesday to the passengers of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, President Trump didn’t notably stray from his prepared remarks, he didn’t talk about himself, and he graciously recognized Democratic and Republican politicians on stage with him. In other words, he resisted his own Trumpian impulses and gave the type of somber speech that American presidents have been giving for the past 17 years on Sept. 11.
It wasn’t guaranteed to go this way. Trump started the day with signs that he misunderstood the significance of the occasion.
Even the attendees may have been expecting more of a lively Trump rally than a solemn commemoration.
In the end, the only discordant notes came from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who thanked the president for “protecting our borders” and welcomed Trump and his “beautiful wife, Melania.”
As Trump took the stage, there were some shouts of “We love you, Trump,” and the president pointed into the audience like he would before his rallies. But from then on, it was standard memorializing: “On September 11, 2001, a band of brave patriots turned the tide on our nation’s enemies and joined the immortal ranks of American heroes,” and, addressing the families of those that died, “We close our arms to help you shoulder your pain and to carry your great great sorrow. Your tears are not shed alone, for they are shared grief with an entire nation.”
There were a few typical Trumpian moments in the text: After noting and thanking the more than 7,000 military service members who have died in post-9/11 wars against “radical Islamic terrorism” (a phrase he did not use at last year’s 9/11 memorials, to the consternation of some conservatives), he also thanked, and particularly emphasized, “every citizen who protects the nation at home, including our local, state, and federal law enforcement. These are great Americans. These are great heroes.”
But then Trump quickly shifted back to memorial default mode: “We ask God to forever bless the immortal heroes of Flight 93.” He then pointed to some people in the cheering crowd, shook hands with Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, kissed Melania, and walked off the stage.