The predictability of Donald Trump’s reaction to the horror in Orlando does not make it any less shocking.
As you must have heard, and probably still can’t quite absorb, the man who would be (and, yes, could be) president took the opportunity to make the deaths of 50 people somehow all about him. No tragedy, it appears, is too horrible for Trump to personally exploit.
The offending tweet — just one of many by Trump — showed up soon after the news of the terror attack in Orlando. The attack proved, he said, that he was “right” about something, although it’s still not clear what, and that he appreciated “the congrats” on his wisdom. It would have been just another day hammering away on Twitter except that Trump wrote this in the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in American history: the horrific attack on an LGBT nightclub.
Here’s the tweet in full: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism. I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”
I’m not sure which is more troubling — the utter lack of empathy or the tone of self-congratulation as a nation mourned its dead. Or maybe it’s this: That in this moment of grief, we are forced to imagine a President Trump.
The shooter, Omar Mateen, was a New York-born son of Afghan immigrants. As Mateen began his night of terror, he called 911 to tell an operator that he was pledging his loyalty to ISIS. That, apparently, was all Trump had to hear. It’s unclear whether this was an ISIS operation or a so-called lone wolf operation or what exactly motivated Mateen, but the unclear parts didn’t seem to faze Trump. Nor did the fact that this was an assault aimed directly at the gay community. That gays were targeted, that ISIS has its own terrible record of homophobic atrocities, was clearly at the heart of this attack, which, as Barack Obama said, was an attack on American values.
In a short speech, Obama called the shootings an act of terror and an act of hate while lamenting, once again, a nation’s unwillingness to face up to the crisis of gun violence. We have seen this Obama before. We have seen it too many times. We have seen too many disturbed young men with easy access to assault-style guns and the carnage that follows.
And we have also seen this Trump before. He said that Obama’s unwillingness to say the words “radical Islam” meant he should resign and that a Hillary Clinton presidency would mean many “hundreds of thousands” of Middle Eastern migrants coming to our shores. He didn’t have to mention that these migrants/supposedly-would-be-terrorists could easily and legally arm themselves.
In a statement, Trump would explain: “If we do not get tough and smart real fast, we are not going to have a country anymore. Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen — and it is only going to get worse. I am trying to save lives and prevent the next terrorist attack. We can’t afford to be politically correct anymore.”
Trump believes the tough, smart course is his proposal — or, as he sometimes calls it, his suggestion — to temporarily ban Muslims. As Trump noted in another tweet, “I called it and asked for the ban.”
Yes, he actually said he called it, as if he’d called that the next pitch was going to be a screwball. At the risk of being politically correct, I should note that a ban would have had exactly no impact on the Orlando attack since Mateen was born in America. As James Fallows points out in The Atlantic, in a series he calls the “Trump Time Capsule,” Trump’s ban could have worked only if it had retroactively banned Mateen’s parents from immigrating decades ago or if Trump meant to expel those American citizens who now happen to be Muslim.
You’d have thought universal Muslim bashing might be a harder sell in the days so soon after Muhammad Ali’s death, but, of course, this is the same Trump who has been reeling from his attack on a judge for being “Mexican,” even though the “Mexican” was born in Indiana. Faced with the “Indiana” problem, Trump said that wherever the judge was born, his “Mexican heritage” precluded him from judging Trump fairly.
Many Republican leaders were forced to concede that Trump’s attack on the judge was racist, even as they said they’d still vote for him. Many of those same leaders had previously hit Trump for his completely unenforceable, un-American, religious-test Muslim ban. What will they say now if Trump doubles down?
Whatever else we know about the terror in Orlando, we know that it changes the political narrative. We just don’t know how. Clinton followed Obama’s speech with a statement that also called the attack an act of terror and an act of hate. She told the LGBT community that they had “millions of allies” across America and that she was one of them. Trump, meanwhile, is scheduled to give a speech today that was originally previewed as an attack on all he finds wrong with the Clintons. But following the Orlando attacks, he now says he will also talk about national security, so the stakes for the speech could hardly be higher.
What Trump will say is anyone’s guess. But there can be little doubt that he will appreciate the congrats from the Trumpists after he says it.
Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue, Creative Commons, Flickr