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In Shanksville, Bush laments collapse of unity Americans felt in wake of 9/11

Former President George W. Bush and first lady

Former President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush say a prayer as they attend a 9/11 commemoration at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., Saturday.   Credit: AFP via Getty Images/MANDEL NGAN

Former President George W. Bush lamented the collapse of the unity that many Americans felt in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in a speech Saturday at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

While extolling the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93, who forced the plane down near Shanksville and likely saved the U.S. Capitol from destruction, Bush spoke repeatedly of "the nation I know" and implicitly said that the America of today is troubled by division, hate and domestic terrorism.

"So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment that leaves us worried about our nation and our future together," said Bush, a Republican who was president when the 9/11 attacks happened.

"On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor’s hand, and rally for the cause of one another. That is the America I know."

"There was horror at the scale of destruction and at the bravery and kindness that rose to meet it," Bush said. "There was shock at the audacity — audacity of evil — and gratitude for the heroism and decency that opposed it. In the sacrifice of the first responders, in the mutual aid of strangers, in the solidarity of grief and grace. The actions of an enemy revealed the spirit of a people. And we were proud of our wounded nation."

He was preceded at the rostrum by Gordon Felt, brother of passenger Edward Felt and president of the Families of Flight 93. Felt also asked, plaintively, if America today "is worthy" of the heroic sacrifice made by his brother and the other passengers and crew members on that flight, who knew that planes had been turned into missiles and whose struggle with the hijackers brought down the plane.

Vice President Kamala Harris praised the courage of those passengers and the resilience of Americans who came together in the days after the attacks.

"In a time of outright terror, we turned toward each other," she said. "If we do the hard work of working together as Americans, if we remain united in purpose, we will be prepared for whatever comes next."

After attending the ceremony in lower Manhattan in the morning, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Shanksville as well. They walked to a stone wall memorial where names of Flight 93 victims are etched, and the president reached out to shake the hand of a young girl who was leaning over the barricade, according to a White House pool report.

Biden, who also stopped by a local firehouse during his visit to Shanksville, praised Bush’s message of unity, and mentioned that he had taken photos with some boys wearing Trump hats at the firehouse. Biden framed the need for unity as a crucial to the success of democracies, asking, "Are we going to, in the next four, five, six, 10 years, demonstrate that democracies can work, or not?"

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