In the hours after Sunday’s Orlando massacre, a somber President Barack Obama consoled a shocked and grieving nation.
Tuesday, an angry and forceful Obama also told Americans what they needed to hear – that the divisive and hateful rhetoric spewed by the likes of Donald Trump not only betrays our values but helps the terrorists.
It was Obama’s most direct and detailed denunciation of Trump yet, and it was absolutely necessary given how the presumptive Republican nominee has exploited the tragedy in Orlando, Fla. On Monday, Trump proposed expanding his ban on Muslim immigrants and suggested that American Muslims are protecting extremists in their midst.
“Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently?” the usually cool Obama asked, his voice rising. “Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith?”
“This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion,” he added. “And if we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect.
Obama also responded with disgust to Trump’s continuing canard that the president is too politically correct to name the enemy as “radical Islam.”
“Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away,” Obama said. “If there is anyone out there who thinks we are confused about who our enemies are, that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists who we have taken off the battlefield.”
While Trump gins up fear against American Muslims, attacks on the LGBT community also, disgracefully, remain an issue. A pastor in Sacramento is being roundly criticized for his sermon Sunday praising the Orlando slaughter and calling the victims sodomites and pedophiles. “The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die,” said Roger Jimenez of Verity Baptist Church.
Vile words should be condemned, but we can’t let them distract us from concrete actions to try to stop these horrific attacks.
For instance, the president rightly called for renewing the ban on military-style assault weapons – like the one used by the Orlando gunman and so many other killers in mass shootings – that expired in 2004. He also supported a bill to bar those on the no-fly terrorist watch list from buying guns. Some Republicans in Congress blocked it last December, a day after the San Bernardino massacre. They did so again Tuesday.
The carnage in Orlando is also putting gun control front and center again at the state Capitol. Tuesday, three different committees heard a batch of bills that would fortify what are already some of the nation’s strictest gun laws. Among other things, they would close a loophole in California’s assault weapons ban, limit purchases of long guns to one a month and fund gun violence research.
Some of these measures may help, but they can be bypassed by crossing the state line or going online. Really effective gun control has to be national in scope, which means Congress must finally stand up to the gun lobby.
“Enough talking about being tough on terrorism,” Obama declared. “Actually be tough on terrorism and stop making it easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons.”
After the worst mass shooting in America’s history, that would be a good start.