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The Uses of 9/11

US Marines man the rails of their multipurpose amphibious assault ship as it passes the World Trade Center on May 21, 1997 during Fleet Week. Photo: AFP Contributor/AFP/Getty Images

Eighteen years later, the memory of September 11, 2001, continues to weigh heavily on the American psyche. The deadliest-ever terror attack on U.S. soil killed almost 3,000 people between the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the United Airlines Flight 93 crash site in Pennsylvania, precipitating two retaliatory wars — one of them, in Iraq, entered under entirely false pretenses — and an unprecedented wave of anti-Muslim animus that led cumulatively to several times more innocent deaths than the initial attack. For many Americans, its anniversary on Wednesday marks the last day when children born after 9/11 remain ineligible to enlist in the military; tomorrow, an 18-year-old born on September 12, 2001, can fight in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are still at war almost two decades later.

But for many Republicans, 9/11 is a day rivaled only by Christmas in its opportunities for partisan sanctimony. Having cast themselves as the exclusive stewards of the tragedy’s memory, many in the party have weaponized that self-appointed status against their political rivals with the fervor and cocksurety of Megyn Kelly insisting that Santa Claus is white. Their latest target was Representative Ilhan Omar, whom they accused earlier this year of trivializing 9/11 — and in President Trump’s case, cast her as a living emblem of it — because she had the temerity to reference it obliquely, using the phrase “some people did something” to illustrate how the behavior of a small group of Muslims was being used to demonize the entire religion. None of them are likely eager to recall that Trump used the attacks’ immediate aftermath to boast about his building at 40 Wall Street being the tallest in the Financial District now that the Twin Towers were gone. Nor did their stewardship prevent their Senate counterparts from filibustering a bill in 2006 that sought to fund healthcare for 9/11 first responders, on the basis that it was too expensive.

illustrated this impulse by tweeting a video that was purportedly designed as a Super Bowl commercial earlier this year. (The company behind it — the military-inspired apparel manufacturer Grunt Style — claims to have chosen not to air it.) In the video, a police officer in riot gear stands before a crowd of screaming protesters. A falsetto rendition of “America the Beautiful” plays over flashbacks to the officer’s past, including his swearing-in to the police force, his childhood as a football player standing for the national anthem, and his time in the military, where he’s seen saluting a coffin presumably containing the remains of a comrade. The American flag features prominently in each set piece. The video ends in the present day, as protesters crash through a crowd-control barrier and charge towards the officer, who snaps his helmet visor into place and unsheathes his nightstick, ready to fight.

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