The day after a deadly terror attack last week in Tel Aviv, when two young Palestinian men opened fire on innocent men and women at an upscale restaurant, political leaders from the left and right showed up at the site to express solidarity with the victims and call for unity.
By contrast, soon after the deadliest mass murder on American soil took place at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., this week, Republican and Democratic leaders appeared to further divide our fractious society by politicizing the tragedy. President Obama spoke once again about the lunacy of making assault weapons easily accessible to people who should be screened from purchasing them, and Hillary Clinton, asserting that “we are not a land of winners and losers,” denounced “inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric,” implicitly criticizing Donald Trump. It was Trump, though, who through his intemperate and incendiary remarks, escalated his offensive approach in this bizarre campaign by doubling down on a call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and suggesting that President Obama may be linked to Islamic extremists.
“Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind,” the presumptive Republican candidate told Fox News. “People … cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.”
Obama has long resisted referring to “Islamic militants” or using similar phrases in regard to terror events throughout his White House years, worried that such rhetoric will further inflame those in the Muslim world who believe the U.S. has a vendetta against their religion. But by avoiding the reality of labeling the events for what they are, he fuels the kind of charges that Trump makes, questioning the president’s motives and national loyalty.
Outrageous allegations with no facts to support them, like implying that Ted Cruz’s father was somehow involved in the JFK assassination, have become a Trump staple in this campaign. He tends to raise a provocative claim and then drop it, having planted the seed. Not only does the candidate get away with such talk, it seems to increase his popularity among so many Americans fed up with the status quo.
The Orlando tragedy has the markings of a highly flammable mix of prejudice and paranoia, in this case combining homophobia, ISIS and gun control. Whether or not the killer was affiliated with or, more likely, inspired by the Islamic State, the fact remains that radical Islamic ideology, religious in nature, has motivated deadly terror attacks in Europe, Africa, Israel and the U.S. And it will continue to do so, we fear, as long as ISIS exists. Once Obama stepped back from his red line in Syria — after asserting the U.S. would not tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction — our enemies knew that the U.S. would not employ the full use of its military arsenal to defeat them.
The appeal of Islam ruling the world attracts “lone wolf” individuals prepared to sacrifice themselves for the cause, however misled they may be. But for Donald Trump to place the blame on the vast majority of Muslims for not policing their own people is deeply disturbing and unfair. How would the Jewish community feel if another Baruch Goldstein emerged, murdering innocent people in the name of God, and we were blamed for his actions?
In the wake of the Orlando murders, there is much cause for reflection about our society, from its roiling unrest to its obsession with firearms as a means of expressing rage. But we deserve leaders and would-be leaders who strive to bring us together rather than tear us apart. A campaign focused from the outset on building walls of separation can only succeed in increasing distrust and despair, pitting us against each other.