As the 9/11 anniversary approaches, I am reminded of what the country felt like then. Yes, we were in shock, angry, and confused. But we were also freshly united. We stood in solidarity to face hate with an unprecedented display of love. Like many Americans, I am frustrated and angry at the tone of the current presidential election campaign. But my overarching feeling is one of sadness.
As the widow of a New York City firefighter who died in the 9/11 attacks, and the mother of a son who was then 5 years old, I witnessed endless acts of kindness and generosity — people sending teddy bears, an 8-year-old who sent his allowance taped to the bottom of his drawing of the burning towers. From celebrities to ironworkers, politicians to nurses — people from all over the city, the country, and even the world, came to help.
Donald Trump was nowhere to be found.
Last fall, he showed up to campaign at the 9/11 museum, even though he had used 9/11 to line his own wallet. The Daily News revealed in May that Trump found a loophole in a fund designed to help small businesses recover after 9/11 and used $150,000 of taxpayer money for his property at 40 Wall Street. He has notoriously refused to release his tax returns, even though every presidential candidate since Nixon has done so. The only available information, as reported in The Washington Post, shows that Trump has given less than $10,000 to charity over seven years.
As he stood at the hallowed ground of the 9/11 memorial, he extolled the virtues of those who had died. But it is difficult to believe he has any respect for the dignity of those who have died for our country, given his reaction to the Khan family after the Democratic National Convention, and the flippant comments he made after receiving a Purple Heart from a supporter who had served: “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.”
After 9/11, New Yorkers applauded the rescue workers as they arrived at Ground Zero every day to dig for their comrades and all the other victims. Many of these same rescue workers are now sick and dying from what they inhaled at the site. While Trump speaks at rallies about their bravery and support, he refused to endorse a health care bill to protect them. More recently, at a rally in Colorado Springs, Trump blasted a fire marshall who was simply doing his job adhering to occupancy laws.
On Facebook recently, I was “unfriended” by a longtime firefighter friend who dismissed Hillary Clinton as “Killary,” but when I asked him why, he had little more to respond with than the rhetoric generated by Trump’s campaign. When I explained that Clinton was instrumental in securing rescue workers $91 million in health monitoring and aid, as well as helping firefighters get raises post-9/11, he responded by saying he just didn’t believe a woman could be president — she would be “too emotional to have her hand on the button.” On Aug. 4, in Arcadia, Iowa, a parade for the local fire department included a float of a cage with a rendering of Clinton in an orange jumpsuit inside. Children were encouraged to throw water balloons at the effigy as the float passed.
I trace these kinds of attitudes and public demonstrations directly to the Trump campaign — and it’s the aspect of the campaign that I, as a single mother, find the most troubling. The blatant sexism Trump proudly touts has opened a Pandora’s box of misogyny across the country. He often compares women to animals or objects, has subjected his beauty contestants to countless humiliations, has joked that he would date his daughter, has consistently slammed Hillary Clinton’s looks, has called Mexicans rapists, and has suggested that women should be punished for abortions.
I am heartbroken about how far we have fallen from the unity we had after 9/11. I am deeply concerned about our country, its future, my son’s future, all of us.Marian Fontana is a New York-based writer and performer, and author of “A Widow’s Walk.”