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Nineteen years ago this week, a series of attacks shook the United States and the world. The September 11 attacks claimed the lives of almost three thousand people from more than 90 countries, including 12 Australians. The following day as fires still burned in the rubble of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, then Australian prime minister John Howard sat in the public gallery as a mark of support while the United States legislature discussed the steps it would take to repair and respond to the national tragedy. Eventually, those steps would include a foreign policy that viewed terrorism as a pre-eminent national threat and subsequent protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. America largely united behind President Bush and those service members who were sent to fight in the Middle East.

In 2020, the United States is still tied down in the Middle East and is witnessing historic levels of division at home. While coronavirus and protests persist, President Trump has spent the best part of the past week denying a widely corroborated report in The Atlantic that he has referred to servicemembers as “suckers” and “losers”.

Both President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will mark the anniversary of 9/11 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania which is the destination where a fourth plane, intended for the White House, was brought down after a struggle between its passengers and the hijackers. Pennsylvania is also a crucial battleground state, a mark of just how entwined national tragedy and the 2020 election have become.