Donald Trump is remarkably adept at exploiting tragedies. Not content to let the public fear only fear itself, he stokes resentment against politically vulnerable minorities, fanning racism and xenophobia among Americans. He has opportunistically seized upon the latest Orlando massacre to spread his messages of hate. How does he do it? By banking on the public's ignorance of policy, putting events and persons in categories that do not conceptually belong together, and strategically omitting important information that would provide context about our immigration system and would have allayed public fears.
His latest rant on foreign policy, immigration, and national security is a case in point.
Putting events and persons in a single category that don't conceptually belong together
One of the ugliest things Trump has done is to play fast and loose with legal immigration categories (including citizenship) by regularly conflating nationality, race/ethnicity, and religion. We should not do the same. The Paris bombers were not refugees, they were French and Belgian citizens who grew up in Europe. How would a ban on nationals from predominantly Muslim countries save us from such an attack? It won't.
Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, was a U.S. born citizen who was a violent homophobe and says he was inspired by ISIS. But Trump characterizes Mateen as "born to Afghan parents who immigrated to the United States." Similarly, Syed Rizwan Farook from the San Bernardino shooting was a Chicago born U.S. citizen. Trump described Farook today as "was the child of immigrants from Pakistan." I don't point out these inconsistencies to defend Mateen or Farook, but instead to highlight the vicious smear Trump perpetrated on innocent persons who happen to be of Afghani and Pakistani descent.
Let's not forget Trump referred to Judge Ganzalo Curiel, a native born U.S. citizen, as "Mexican" as if he were a foreign national. Legal categories and nationality are just dry technicalities that Trump banks on the public not understanding the distinctions between. He suggests that what defines you is your race, religion, or your parents' place of birth. That is called racism. But I digress. Would a ban on Muslim immigration have saved us from Mateen? It wouldn't have. The Orlando and San Bernardino shootings are a failure of American gun policy, not its immigration policy.
Of the terrorists he enumerates, Trump says "I don't want them in our country." Who is "them"?
It becomes clear how he is constructing" us "versus "them" later in Trump's speech when he says:
Each year, the United States permanently admits more than 100,000 immigrants from the Middle East, and many more from Muslim countries outside the Middle East. Our government has been admitting ever-growing numbers, year after year, without any effective plan for our security.
In fact, Clinton's State Department was in charge of the admissions process for people applying to enter from overseas.
Having learned nothing from these attacks, she now plans to massively increase admissions without a screening plan, including a 500% increase in Syrian refugees.
This could be a better, bigger version of the legendary Trojan Horse.
Tarring adherents of an entire religion with a broad brush as a threat, while eliding terrorists and mass murderers of the home-grown variety is not new for Trump. But in the passage above, "Muslim" in Trump's mind renders someone one of "them" whether one has murderous proclivities or not. It remains unclear if evil doers who are domestic terrorists are also "them" if they are not also Muslim.
Trump's racist guilt-by-association-with-an-allegedly-dangerous-Mulslim country strategy only builds on existing media bias. For example, mass murderers who happen to be white and "American" like Dylan Roof, of Charleston, SC infamy, is not referred to as a "terrorist" but as "mentally ill."
Omitting crucial information that would provide factual and historical context
1) Trump mentions the following events in his speech: 9/11, Paris, San Bernardino, the Boston Marathon bombing, and Orlando. Yet there were hundreds more mass shootings in between those headline grabbing events. He singled out these particular events because they were carried out by shooters who claimed to kill in the name of ISIS and who were claiming to be Muslim. He omitted from his speech the many school shootings, many like at Sandy Hook which were also deadly with multiple lives lost. Tellingly he never mentioned Robert Lewis Dear, Jr. Remember him? He's the guy who shot up Planned Parenthood in an overtly political act saying he was motivated by Christianity. Where's the call to ban Christians?
2) Trump's laser beam focus has been on terrorists (and he means foreign terrorists whether the person is actually foreign-born or merely associated with someone foreign-born). In fact the inextricable problem with mass murder is the profusion of firearms in the U.S. including semi-automatics that kill with deadly ease and accuracy. Trump omits any discussion of many other deaths in the United States caused by handguns, a number that dwarfs than the number of deaths caused by a terrorist act.
3) Trump makes it sound like the U.S. borders are porous when he said, "We have to screen applicants to know whether they are affiliated with, or support, radical groups and beliefs." People do not just come into the U.S. at will, especially refugees. Refugees coming to the United States are rigorously screened n a process that takes at least 18-24 months and requires the handing over of biometrics to multiple federal agencies and hours of questioning and interviewing. The process is described here and by this White House description. Are we to believe a would-be terrorist is willing to hand over biometrics to multiple federal agencies and cool their jets in a refugee camp overseas for 18-24 months?
Truth was never his strong suit, but for the record, Syrian refugees are not pouring into the country as Trump suggests. This year, we've admitted 1,100 Syrian refugees as of this March 2016.
Building walls and excluding nationals from allied nations, whether predominantly Muslim or not, will not make us safer. It will weaken our diplomatic ties with them making intelligence sharing and law enforcement cooperation more difficult. Any discussion of "security" and "terrorism" which omits serious policy proposals on gun control is not going to make us safer. Alienating and demonizing adherents of an entire religion will not make us safer. An unrelenting search for the facts by citizens of conscience and a free press to confront Trumps' innuendos and lies, even though it feels some days like a no-win game of Whac-a-Mole , is mostly what we have left as the thin guardrail of our republic against authoritarianism.