June 12, 2016
Almost fifteen years ago, a terrorist attack temporarily united the country. Today’s will not. It’s hard to imagine a better blueprint for creating strife (possible, but I don’t wish to.) The assailant/perpetrator/murderer/terrorist Omar Mateen used an AR-15 rifle (among other weapons) to kill a minimum of 50 people in a gay club, after calling in to 911 and linking the atrocity to ISIS.
If you think gun control is the paramount issue here, there’s plenty to work with. The killer was using a military assault rifle he legally purchased. The FBI apparently interviewed him in both 2013 and 2014, but he was still able to acquire the weapon. He had a carry license.
If you think this has little or nothing to do with gun control, you’ll point out similar weaponry was used in the Paris attacks and France has very restrictive rules. While Mateen acquired his AR-15 (and other firearm used) legally, there’s always the ability to get a gun another way, whether using a friend, like the San Bernardino terrorists, or whatever methods were used in Paris and Brussels.
If you hear someone mention Sandy Hook, they’re thinking gun control first. If they mention Paris, they’re thinking the opposite. Then there’s the whole matter of Islam. Mateen was a Muslim. His ex-wife (who he apparently beat) claims he was not observant. His father says he was disturbed by seeing two gay men kissing in Miami and may have taken it out on the clubbers.
Both relatives would prefer to keep this from being an Islamic thing, just the act of someone who was already violent, or a hate crime against gays. That’s not an option. Most of the people who are passionate about gun control are also among those who are very uncomfortable with the idea of terrorism as a key part of Islam. They prefer to point out the vast, vast majority of practicing Muslims have never and would never consider participating in a terrorist act.
On the other hand, the vast majority of terrorist attacks are carried out by Muslims and/or in the name of Islam. If this is primarily a terrorist attack, one carried out by someone with ISIS sympathies (there’s no evidence ISIS directed the act), then another act of Islamic terror is the story, not the weapon.
Then there’s the location/victim list. Most everybody (including Mateen’s father) believes this wasn’t a random choice. Depending on your perspective, this is a reminder the Islamic world is not LGBTQ friendly (to put it mildly), or an example of gays being targeted by a mass shooter.
In the best of times, this is a political pincushion. In the best of times, the media would sensationalize a horrific event like this. This is not the best of times.
I managed to make it this far without mentioning Donald Trump. Take the kindling mentioned above, douse it with lighter fluid and toss Trump on the pile and you have the all-time recipe for a week full of dog whistles, as he attempts to fire up his base, keep persuadable skeptics on board, and make it difficult for wavering establishment types to abandon him.
His poll numbers in the GOP primary improved noticeably after both the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. He’s very aware of this. After getting a boost once he clinched the nomination, and catching up to Hillary Clinton, Trump lost some ground last week. Whether it was the controversy over Judge Curiel, or Clinton clinching the Democratic nomination, or a combination, she pulled back ahead of him in polling, if not by a huge margin.
Mitch McConnell discussed un-endorsing him. Paul Ryan has indicated a similar possibility. Mitt Romney spent a few days filleting the presumed nominee at his annual conference in Utah. Various attendees echoed his disdain, with Meg Whitman (Hewlett Packard CEO and ex-GOP gubernatorial nominee in CA) comparing Trump to Mussolini and Hitler.
Had nothing happened this morning, Trump would have still looked for a game changing story for next week. Now he has one, and with a topic that has already worked for him. When President Obama addressed the nation today and chose not to mention “Islam” and “terror” together, it gave him a chance to go back to a favorite talking point, one that unites him with most GOP voters.
So Trump gets to make whatever inflammatory comments he wants over the next few days (after a somewhat restrained initial tweet, he followed up by taking credit for recognizing the heightened danger of ISIS-inspired domestic attacks months ago), with the knowledge he can say establishment Republicans who condemn him are siding with Obama on the issue of Islamic terrorism.
Clinton is being as measured as possible so far. After spending plenty of time working on the narrative of Trump being too dangerous to hold the nuclear codes, this is a chance for her to contrast their responses. She figures a few more Americans want a steady hand than a loud voice. Trump thinks a few more Americans want somebody who will do something drastic, rather than repeating the same lines about gun control and stopping ISIS.
In November, we’ll have an idea of who was right. In the meantime, if you’re looking for reasoned, open-minded discourse, you may want to avoid television, Twitter, Facebook, or any other forms of human communication over the next several days. Too many politicians and opinionists have too vested an interest in firing up too many voters/supporters/contributors to let this opportunity pass.
Trump is the loudest. He arguably has the most at stake. If this were an investigation, he has the means, motive, and opportunity to make this a point of contention instead of unification. But he isn’t alone. In a Trumpless world, this would still inflame everyone. He just makes the flames much, much taller.