Two Weeks After Orlando, Trump's Reaction Looks Even Crazier

06/27/2016 10:37 am ET Updated Jun 28, 2017
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in L
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada June 18, 2016. REUTERS/David Becker

There are statements that may appear foolish and wrong-headed when initially uttered, yet which--after the passage of time--we recognize as containing previously unseen wisdom. This ain't one of them.

A few hours after we learned of the horrific massacre of 49 people on Latin night at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, the Republican nominee for president reacted. He knew that this attack was about "radical Islamic terrorism." He didn't need no stinkin' investigation. He just knew. Or maybe that was just the narrative that best suited his campaign.

Of course, we have since learned that Omar Mateen's motives for carrying out this mass murder are not so clear. There is a great deal of evidence that at least suggests Mateen was conflicted about being gay, and that he targeted Pulse for that reason. If that is so, his pledge of allegiance to ISIS may well have been a cover story or, at the very least, not the whole story.

There were a number of other disturbing elements in Trump's response to Orlando--which included the sickening intimation that President Obama was somehow on the side of ISIS ("Look, we're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind...There's something going on. It's inconceivable. There's something going on.") Let's focus, however, on what Trump had to say about Muslims.

Trump claimed that this "radical Islamic" terrorist attack justifies a ban on all Muslim immigrants entering the U.S., as well as a ban on all immigrants from places that have a "proven history of terrorism" (ahem, maybe other states shouldn't allow whites from South Carolina to cross their borders?). It is worth noting that his immigration proposals--which Trump said he could implement directly through executive orders--envision the exercise of enormous presidential authority, far beyond anything claimed by President Obama or previous presidents on immigration.

On Trump's response to Orlando, Princeton professor Julian Zelizer noted the GOP nominee was using it as a "confirmation of all the things he has been saying about the threat the United States faces and the need to be more aggressive," and connected Trump to a long tradition of politicians who--when our national security appears to be threatened--"play to fear, you play to the anger of the electorate and you offer promises of military might as the solution."

Yes, President Obama and Secretary Clinton also spoke about "terrorism" after Orlando. But, of course, it was a terrorist attack, an attack designed to strike terror in the American people through violence. But Obama as well as Clinton rebuked Trump for using this attack to sow greater fear about Muslim immigrants and Muslim Americans in general. Neither Democrat put forth radical proposals that violated our country's core values.

It's worth drawing a broader parallel here. Trump reacted to the mass shooting at Pulse by claiming it was one thing, when it might actually have been another, and proposed a response that would not in any way have prevented that attack--but which does fit his preconceived plan for our country. His use of Orlando to push his broader policy agenda should remind you of our most recent Republican president. Substitute 9/11 for Orlando, substitute the (non-existent) connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein for Omar Mateen's supposed connection to ISIS, and substitute Trump's proposals on immigration for the decision to invade Iraq, and this really begins to look familiar.

Let's directly address those voters who are having a hard time seeing a real difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, in particular those of you who, like me, supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Given what we know now (and still don't know) about Omar Mateen two weeks after he murdered 49 people, and given the way Trump reacted the day of and in the days after those murders, here is a question for you:

If one year from now there was a violent attack on Americans that appeared to be connected to Muslims in some way, do you feel confident that a President Trump would take the time to learn exactly what happened before formulating a response? Would you feel comfortable, after such an attack took place, with a President Trump sitting in the Oval Office, in control of our country's vast military arsenal, with him having the nuclear codes and the ability to order our forces to start shooting?

Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, please consider these questions as you decide how to cast your ballot for president of the United States come November.