As one of the first people to be blamed for 9/11 by a politician, I have some thoughts on the implications of Donald Trump playing the same blame game to fuel his presidential ambitions. Blaming President George W. Bush for the attacks may bait his brother, play well in the media and appeal to some in the public, but it's not leadership.
On 9/11, I was the head of the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), the agency which runs Logan Airport. At Logan, 10 of the 19 hijackers boarded the two flights which took down the Twin Towers. It took less than 48 hours for the Acting Governor of Massachusetts to suggest the need for personnel changes. "Sources" added those changes could include my firing.
Despite knowing the terrorists also boarded flights at Newark and Dulles, my role at Logan was publicly linked by some in the media to al Qaeda's selection of Boston as a launching pad. A poll conducted by a leading Boston newspaper found a majority of the public wanted me gone.
The author Brene Brown suggests blame is "a way to discharge pain and discomfort." Like a collective breath being exhaled by the body politic, my forced resignation temporarily eased the palpable sense of anger and fear in Boston following the attacks.
It didn't matter that Massport had no authority over the security checkpoints under federal law at the time, not that that had any bearing on the hijackers' simple plan of carrying small knives onboard and overpowering unsuspecting passengers and crew. It didn't matter that security at Logan Airport was no different than at any other, as the National 9/11 Commission eventually pointed out.
Many months and millions of dollars went into the Commission's congressionally authorized investigation. When I was interviewed, the investigators noted they were asking questions with the "benefit of hindsight." Ultimately, the Commission concluded no one agency or person was responsible for failing to protect the country from al Qaeda's attack including President Bush. Rather, they found, as a nation we suffered from a "failure of imagination" for not being able to foresee such a horrific act.
It seems Mr. Trump's hindsight is a perfect 20/20. He bloviates with the best of them, but his utter disregard for or ignorance of the facts on many issues makes him dangerous. He blames President George W. Bush, despite the Commission's conclusions. But we know it is purely for political gain because he chooses to blame his opponent's brother instead of many others the Commission considered and properly exonerated, from the Clinton Administration to the FBI to the CIA to the FAA. Do we want a President who is so cavalier and ignorant about the most serious crisis to face our country since the end of the Cold War?
Obviously, there is a personal toll for being blamed for something so horrific. But what is the societal toll of our reflex, and Trump's, to assign blame, to scapegoat, in response to crisis?
First, Mr. Trump, it's just not that simple.
We live in a scary, complicated world. Watch the evening news. Read the headlines. ISIS. A nuclear Iran. Syria. Ferguson. Baltimore. Illegal immigration.
Not one has a simple solution. Not one a single cause. Firing me certainly didn't improve airport security. Blaming lets us, leaders and voters alike, avoid wrestling with and truly addressing the deeply complicated issues we face.
It's them, not us.
Before he raised 9/11, Mr. Trump was criticized for asserting Mexicans crossing the U.S. border were drug dealers and rapists. Some call that racist. Others call it smart politics. I call it "othering." In the dictionary, othering is defined as to "view or treat a person or group of people as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself." What does that have to do with scapegoating?
Everything. It is the heart of it. It is the reason horrors like the Holocaust or the Armenian Genocide happened. Blame can be placed on one person as was the case with me, but it also can be placed on an entire people with horrifying results.
Life is fragile.
We are the one species that is mortal and conscious of it. And most of us do everything in our power to deny that reality, including assigning blame even when bad things happen beyond our worst imagining.
What if, instead of blaming, we came together to address what we could, and also asked ourselves, "How would we live our lives, what would our world be like, if we acknowledged our fragility?" I don't have the answers to these questions, but I think they're worth asking.
I recently completed a first-of-its-kind program, Presidential Leadership Scholars, convened by the presidential libraries of President Clinton and President George W. Bush to apply the leadership lessons of their presidencies (and those of President George H.W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson) to today's challenges. The 60 participants studied the core characteristics of leadership including deliberation, intentionality, self-awareness, decisiveness and resilience. Assigning blame was not in the curriculum.
Perhaps, Mr. Trump should check it out.