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Wake Up To Politics - September 11, 2020

Wake Up To Politics: The politics of tragedy
Wake Up To Politics - September 11, 2020

It’s Friday, September 11, 2020. Election Day is 53 days away. The first presidential debate is 18 days away. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

The Politics of Tragedy

Nineteen years after terrorists struck the United States, politics will once again pause this year to remember the lives lost on 9/11. It is a ritual politicians have (mostly) observed for each of those nineteen years, putting aside partisan squabbling to unite behind the memory of a national tragedy.

After weeks of near run-ins when visiting the same battleground states, the members of the two presidential tickets will be in close proximity as they visit the same hallowed ground today. Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will attend the same ceremony in New York City, at the former site of the Twin Towers, this morning.

Later, Biden will travel to the Pennslyvania city where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed on September 11 — hours after President Donald Trump is there as well.

Before departing for New York this morning, Biden made a nod to the annual pause of politicking in comments to reporters. “I’m not going to make any news today,” the former vice president said. “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, OK?”

As Matt Viser writes in the Washington Post, both Biden (who was at the Capitol as it was expected to be targeted) and Trump (who was just four miles from Ground Zero) are candidates “marked” by the events of 9/11. “The Sept. 11 attacks targeted the cities that molded the two men, Washington and New York, reinforcing the clashing worldviews they now offer the American electorate: Biden’s embrace of U.S. institutions and global alliances, Trump’s distrust of foreigners and insistence that America must go it alone,” Viser explains.

Ceremonies marking the tragic day take on a very different meaning amid a tragic year. The campaigns may take a pause to remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost on 9/11, but they have marched on as nearly 190,000 Americans have died due to the coronavirus pandemic in recent months. (In one more parallel between the two tragedies, TIME Magazine’s cover this week is enclosed with a black border for the second time in its history. The first was after 9/11.) As Jennnifer Peltz writes in the Associated Press, many 9/11 tributes are being altered this year due to restrictions on large gatherings.

In New York — the American city most affiliated with the 9/11 attacks, and with the pandemic — the ceremony Pence and Biden will attend at Ground Zero will not feature relatives reading the names of the 9/11 victims, as is traditional. “But some victims’ relatives felt the change robbed the observance of its emotional impact,” Peltz reports. “A different 9/11-related group, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, set up its own, simultaneous ceremony a few blocks away, saying there’s no reason that people can’t recite names while keeping a safe distance.” Pence will attend the alternative ceremony as well.

While Americans unite to remember those lost on 9/11, it is difficult not to draw contrasts to the divided style in which the nation has responded to the pandemic this year. “Why does the grief of 2020—when the coronavirus pandemic has actually filled hospitals in New York and in communities across the country—feel so different?” Garrett Graff asks in The Atlantic, noting that 60 times as many Americans have died in the “rolling, day-after-day assault” of the virus than in the attacks of September 11, 2011. “Why does our country, so united after 9/11, feel so splintered now?”

By way of answer, Graff mourns the inability of Americans to come together and collectively grieve this year — “This pandemic has brought forth tears but inhibited hugs” — and to unite behind an agreed-upon response. “Today, whatever shared national spirit existed in the first weeks of the pandemic has been fractured beyond repair...Far from showing the common purpose evident after 9/11, America is in the grip of a ‘can’t do’ spirit,” he writes.

Politics will (presumably) pause today out of shared respect for 9/11 but there is little doubt that it will continue on after that, gripped by a divisive pandemic that, instead of physically or emotionally bringing the nation together, has increasingly become just another partisan football.


Senate Democrats blocked a scaled-down, $500 billion Republican coronavirus aid measure on Thursday, likely dooming the chances of a relief package passing before the November election. The legislation failed in a 52-47 vote, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) joining all present democrats in voting “nay.” It needed 60 “yea” votes to advance.

With the election quickly approaching, negotiations for another aid package between the two parties have largely sputtered. The Senate Republican bill would have provided $300 weekly federal jobless benefits, as well as a $250 billion second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses, $105 billion for schools, $10 billion for child care, and forgiveness of a $10 billion loan to the U.S. Postal Service, among other measures.

House Democrats have backed a larger, $3 trillion package that would offer $1 trillion for state and local governments, another round of $1,200 direct payments to Americans, $25 billion for the Postal Service, and $3.6 billion for election security. The legislation passed the House, 208-199, in May.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top two Democrats, have said they will go no lower than a price tag of $2.2 trillion, while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said Republicans will go no higher than $1.5 trillion. No agreement is expected to be inked, as millions of Americans remain unemployed and in need of assistance.

2020 Roundup

Election interference: “Russian government hackers have targeted at least 200 organizations tied to the 2020 U.S. election in recent weeks, including national and state political parties and political consultants working for both Republicans and Democrats, according to Microsoft Corp.”

“China has also engaged in cyberattacks against ‘high-profile individuals’ linked to Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign, while Iranian actors have continued targeting personal accounts of people associated with President Trump’s campaign, Microsoft said in a blog post published Thursday.” (Wall Street Journal)

  • “The U.S. Treasury on Thursday added Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach to its ‘Specially Designated Nationals’ list for alleged efforts to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, including by promoting ‘false and unsubstantiated’ allegations targeting Joe Biden.” (Axios)

Pandemic voting: “About six in 10 registered voters nationwide say they want to cast their ballots before Election Day, a significant departure from previous years that will force the candidates to reshape how they campaign in the election season’s final weeks, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted by Ipsos.“

“Fear of the coronavirus and doubts about the reliability of mail voting after months of attacks from President Trump are weighing heavily on Americans as they decide how to safely ensure their vote will be counted in this fall’s presidential election, according to the survey. In 2016, about 4 in 10 ballots were cast early.” (Washington Post)


All times Eastern.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will participate in a 9/11 observance at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 9:45 a.m. After returning to Washington, D.C., the president will present the Medal of Honor to Army Sergeant Major Thomas Payne at 3 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence will participate in a 9/11 observance at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City at 8:40 a.m. They will then participate in a ceremony hosted by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation at 9 a.m. After returning to Washington, D.C., the vice president will attend the Medal of Honor ceremony.

The Senate is not in session.

The House will meet at 1 p.m. for a brief pro forma session. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will lead a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. on the Capitol steps.

The Supreme Court is on summer recess.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Dr. Biden will attend the 9/11 observance at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City in the morning. In the afternoon, they will travel to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to pay their respects to the victims of Flight 93.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff will travel to Fairfax, Virginia, to attend a 9/11 remembrance ceremony.

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