On a day when the names and smiling young faces of the 49 killed at an Orlando nightclub began spilling across social media alongside tearful tributes from loved ones, it’s hard to imagine any way such a gut-wrenching situation could be made worse.
In what started as a measured speech read from a teleprompter and morphed into a xenophobic rant, the presumptive Republican nominee appealed to the worst in a nation still trying to make sense of a senselessly heinous crime.
As tests of leadership go, Trump spectacularly failed this one, the first of the general election against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Faced with a country desperately in need of selfless reassurance and ideas, he pandered to his base with divisive fearmongering. It is appalling that Trump could choose so selfishly.
In addition to the breathtaking death toll, more than 50 were maimed early Sunday while out for a night of fun at a gay bar, Pulse. The attack, an act of terror and an act of hate against a community that has faced more than its share of both, is now the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
And yet, Trump’s first reaction was to basically say, “I told you so.” He tweeted as much to his followers on Sunday.
Then, during his Monday speech, he shamelessly fanned the basest fears of Republican voters, blatantly twisting facts and harvesting the seeds of division that he sowed after the terror attack in San Bernardino in December.
Trump repeatedly blurred the lines between radical Islamic terrorists and law-abiding American Muslims. He warned that followers of Islam don’t share “American values” and implied, bizarrely, that to support Muslim Americans is to put gay Americans at risk.
He touted an upcoming meeting with the National Rifle Association, which endorsed him, to find ways for “Americans to protect themselves in this age of terror.”
And he renewed calls for a ban on immigration from “areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism” – code for Muslim countries in the Mideast. This, even though the Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen, was self-radicalized and born – just like Trump – in New York. Undeterred by reality, Trump declared: “The only reason the killer was in America in the first place is because we allowed his family to come here.”
Compare that to Clinton, who laid out a sober plan Monday to better capture radicalized “lone wolves,” ban assault-style weapons, and build on an existing coalition of Muslim allies, both in the United States and abroad.
“We have to stand together, be proud together,” she said in Cleveland, invoking “the spirit of 9/12”.
Trump traffics in fear, hate, intolerance, division, racism and ethnocentrism. Those qualities are not only not “presidential,” as he might put it. They’re qualities to fear.
We struggle to understand what Republicans are thinking, putting him forth for the White House. Charisma is one thing. Character is another, and repeatedly Trump, in the most crucial of moments, has shown us that his is morally and ethically damaged.
Leaning into the cameras on Monday, he warned: “This is a dark moment in American history.”
It is. Just as love is love, hate is hate, and a segment of Americans are being driven headlong toward the latter, with Donald Trump leading the charge.