Joe Biden called on Americans to defend their democracy every day, in remarks commemorating the 21st anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Speaking on Sunday at the Pentagon, one of the sites struck by a hijacked aeroplane, the US president underscored the obligation of Americans to “defend, preserve and protect” the democratic principles that underpin the nation’s social, political and economic fabric.
“Remember, the American democracy depends on the habit of the heart of ‘We the People’, he said, referencing the opening line of the US constitution. “It’s not enough to stand up for democracy once a year or every now and then. It is something we have to do every single day.”
He added: “This is a day not only to remember, but a day of renewal and resolve for each and every American and our devotion to this country, to the principles it embodies, to our democracy.
“That is what we owe those who we remember today, that is what we owe one another, and that is what we owe future generations of Americans to come.”
The defence of democracy has become a regular theme for Biden ahead of midterm elections in November. The president used a primetime address this month to call out Trump and his Make America Great Again movement as a threat to the country.
Biden said he had “no doubt” Americans will “meet this significant responsibility” and come together to secure the country’s democracy, citing as well the work of the nation’s counter-terrorism and intelligence agencies in continuing to seek out those responsible for the 2001 attacks.
Over the summer, the US killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in Afghanistan. Zawahiri was Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command and took control of the group that plotted the 9/11 hijackings among other attacks on US soil after US Navy Seals killed bin Laden in a raid in 2011.
“I made a promise to the American people that we would continue to conduct effective counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We’ve done just that,” Biden said after the operation, which occurred just one year after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
US vice-president Kamala Harris, who on Sunday spoke at the 9/11 memorial at the base of where the World Trade Center towers once stood in lower Manhattan, underscored the important role America plays on the global stage and how domestic threats to the country’s democratic values threaten that standing.
In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press that aired over the weekend, Harris spoke of last year’s attacks on the US Capitol aimed at overturning the 2020 presidential election results, in which Biden defeated Donald Trump.
“When we, as the United States, walk into those rooms around the world, we have had the honour and privilege historically of holding our head up as a defender and an example of a great democracy,” she said. “And that then gives us the legitimacy and the standing to talk about the importance of democratic principles, rule of law, human rights.”
With elected officials refusing to condemn the insurrection on January 6, Harris said it sent “a signal that causes people to question: ‘Hey, is America still valuing what they talk about?’”
“I’m very concerned about it,” she added. “Through the process of what we’ve been through, we’re starting to allow people to call into question our commitment to those principles.”
Sunday’s tributes included an address by First Lady Jill Biden to victims’ families and first responders in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a hijacked aeroplane heading for the US Capitol crashed after 40 passengers and crew on board sought to seize back control from the attackers.
“9/11 touched us all. It changed us all,” she said. “But it reminds us that with courage and kindness, we can be a light in that darkness.”
Mark Warner, the Democratic chair of the Senate intelligence committee, said the US was better prepared, and that the threat of terror had diminished.
“I do worry about some of the activity in this country where the election deniers, the insurgency that took place on January sixth, that is something I hope where we can see that kind of unity and spirit,” he said on CBS’ Face the Nation programme.