WASHINGTON — As they traveled the nation laying wreaths, strolling by means of crash websites in pastoral meadows and comforting households whose wounds are ripped open anew every year, two dwelling presidents used the anniversary of the Sept. 11 assaults to induce Americans to return collectively in an effort to climate deep political and cultural divisions.
“On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor’s hand and rally to the cause of one another,” former President George W. Bush mentioned from the United Flight 93 memorial exterior Shanksville, Pa. “That is the America I know.”
But on Saturday, each he and President Biden acknowledged that what has occurred within the years since has solely challenged the notion that Americans prized coming collectively over selecting to develop hostile to at least one one other’s variations. Mr. Bush’s choices as president 20 years in the past led to a battle in Afghanistan and one other in Iraq, and he equated the following rise of home extremism within the United States to the identical toxic beliefs that had impressed the hijackers.
Shortly after Mr. Bush spoke, Mr. Biden, whose drawdown of the battle in Afghanistan has been criticized for its haphazard and violent finish, arrived close to Shanksville to put a wreath and go to a boulder the place, in 2001, a aircraft stuffed with passengers and crew members, who had wrestled management from hijackers, had hit the bottom.
Their appearances appeared like guide ends to a 20-year story of tragedy and division prompted by an unthinkable terrorist assault. But each of their remarks, solemn and laced with pleading, hinted that the subsequent harrowing chapter of America’s future was nonetheless being written.
“Are we going to, in the next four, five, six, 10 years, demonstrate that democracies can work, or not?” Mr. Biden requested reporters gathered exterior Shanksville. “We actually can, in fact, lead by the example of our power again.”
As president, Mr. Biden is struggling to maneuver on from the far-reaching aftermath of the assaults. The finish of the battle in Afghanistan has been politically expensive, and it has made it tough for him to pivot to a international coverage doctrine that may higher place the nation to battle what he feels are extra urgent challenges: combating local weather change, getting ready for future pandemics and maintaining tempo with China.
In a prerecorded message posted to his Twitter account Friday night, Mr. Biden gave an replace of kinds to what he mentioned 20 years in the past concerning the nation’s means to resist a disaster like Sept. 11.
“We saw national unity bend. We learned that the unity is the one thing that must never break,” he mentioned within the video message. “Unity is what makes us who we are, America at its best. To me, that’s the central lesson of Sept. 11. It’s that at our most vulnerable, in the push and pull of all that makes us human, in the battle of the soul of America, unity is our greatest strength.”
Mr. Biden has additionally been pressured by households of Sept. 11 victims to launch extra data on the origin of the assaults. This month, the president made good on a marketing campaign promise to reveal long-classified paperwork that households of the victims consider might element connections between the federal government of Saudi Arabia and the hijackers.
The households had referred to as for Mr. Biden to take action or chorus from attending Sept. 11 memorial occasions. But on Saturday, he started his day in New York City. He and the primary woman, Jill Biden, stood on the 9/11 memorial plaza with their Democratic predecessors, Barack and Michelle Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton, who was a senator of New York 20 years in the past.
Former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, the previous first woman, on the Flight 93 National Memorial exterior Shanksville, Pa., on Saturday.Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times
Nearby was Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican who was the mayor of New York through the assaults and an unsparing critic of Mr. Biden, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama.
Notably absent from the proceedings was one other dwelling president.
Former President Donald J. Trump had obtained details about the memorial occasion in New York City, organizers mentioned, however Mr. Trump’s spokeswoman mentioned he had chosen as an alternative to go to a police station and a firehouse, the place he spoke little about Sept. 11 and as an alternative denounced Mr. Biden. Mr. Trump additionally issued a collection of statements that criticized Mr. Biden’s dealing with of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and praised his allies, together with Mr. Giuliani, his private lawyer, as “the greatest mayor in the history of New York City.”
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Mr. Biden didn’t immediately tackle Mr. Trump’s criticism, however advised reporters that there was no want for divisive political language.
“They think this makes sense for us to be in this kind of thing where you ride down the street and someone has a sign saying ‘F so and so,’” Mr. Biden mentioned, referring to the expletive-laden indicators which might be typically noticed alongside presidential motorcade routes.
Instead, throughout numerous stops in any respect three memorial websites — Lower Manhattan, Shanksville and the Pentagon — members of the Biden administration tried to current a cleareyed view of what unfolded that day, as properly as measurement up the toll the aftermath has taken on Americans.
Vice President Kamala Harris mentioned in remarks delivered close to Shanksville that the tragedy of the assaults had proven how “fear can be used to sow division,” and harassed that America’s variety was its biggest asset.
“If we do the hard work of working together as Americans, if we remain united in purpose,” she mentioned, “we will be prepared for whatever comes next.”
Ms. Harris, memorializing the 40 passengers and crew members who fought again, inspired Americans to recollect their sacrifice.
“On this 20th anniversary, on this solemn day of remembrance, we must challenge ourselves, yes, to look back. To remember. For the sake of our children. For the sake of their children,” she mentioned. “And for that reason, we must also look forward. We must also look toward the future. Because in the end, I do believe, that is what the 40 were fighting for: their future, and ours.”
People who’ve recognized Mr. Biden for many years, who was a senator of Delaware and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the time of the Sept. 11 assaults, mentioned they noticed a parallel between what he had mentioned within the aftermath of the assaults and the language he makes use of to information Americans by means of the coronavirus pandemic.
“People were walking up to him,” mentioned Margaret Aitken, who was press secretary for Mr. Biden when he was a senator. “He was literally stopping people on the street who looked upset and giving that message: ‘We’re going to be OK. We’re going to be all right. There’s nothing that when we come together as a nation we can’t overcome.’”
She added, “It’s very consistent with what he has been saying all along” by means of the pandemic.
Michael Gold contributed reporting.