This weekend's Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando is such a multi-layered tragedy that it's difficult to know where to begin to pull it apart. On one hand it's being labeled a terrorist attack, largely because of the shooter's Muslim faith and his maybe too convenient embracing of ISIS's specific message as an alleged reason for his actions. Yes, the killer was of Afghan heritage but he was born here in the United States and, despite a purported public proclamation of loyalty to Hezbollah at one point -- it should be noted, an enemy of ISIS -- his background showed a man who just generally hated everyone not him. His ex-wife calls him violent and abusive; his coworkers say he was a racist and bigot; and his father claims he was set off by the image of two men kissing. (While a new report asserts that he may have been gay himself and was a regular at Pulse.) He was certainly an Islamic extremist, but it's necessary to keep in mind that a strident opposition to homosexuality is a trait Islam shares with more than a few Western religions, including Christianity.
On that note and on the other hand, this shooting was absolutely a hate crime. The killer didn't target a shopping mall, school or theme park. He specifically set out to kill gay people at a place that's one of the few traditional sanctuaries for unabashed gay culture. Maybe he truly was radicalized and despised America, but one thing is an absolute certainty: he despised gays (possibly including himself, if he genuinely was one). To remove the irrational, violent hatred of those within the LGBTQ community -- as some political leaders, mostly conservatives, are conveniently attempting to do -- is a contemptible dodge and it misses the entire point of what made an already horrific act so much more vile. It targeted a group of people already accustomed to years and years of persecution and outright violence. If we legitimately call this an act of terror then we have to also recognize who it was meant to terrify. And it was meant to terrify gay people. Not just Americans, but gay Americans. Never forget that.
Considering the enormity of this tragedy, it feels ghoulish to concern ourselves with anything other than the act itself and its early aftermath. Yes, we should immediately demand action on assault rifles like the one used not only in the Pulse shooting but in so many other mass casualty incidents: the AR-15, a weapon that by no means should ever be in the hands of a civilian. But that's simply because the rage we feel as a nation should be used to overpower those who again and again stand in the way of sensible gun safety measures. To concern ourselves with how one presidential candidate or another is responding to this situation feels cheap because it directly brings politics into the mix. But when you consider just how important the upcoming election is and the stark contrast between the two candidates, it's imperative to look at how each one deals with this test of his or her mettle -- whether he or she passes or fails. With that in mind let's just come right out and say it: Hillary Clinton has so far handled this situation with calmness, compassion, pragmatism and resolve. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has been a characteristic dumpster fire.
It's difficult to overstate just how offensive and genuinely horrifying Trump's response to the Pulse shooting has been. Beginning with one of his earliest reactions to it, predictably via his overworked Twitter account, he's been a steady stream of self-aggrandizement, bigotry, uninformed bluster, and baseless conspiracy theorizing. Maybe no one should be surprised by this considering what we know about Trump, but it's still nothing less than staggering that the presumptive nominee of one of the two main parties within the United States has said some of the things Trump has said over the last 48 hours. Either way, if you were holding onto any shred of hope that a general election Trump might not be the unequivocally unfit monster that Republican primary Trump so obviously was, kiss it goodbye. Trump isn't simply a disaster. He's a nightmare of proportions simply unprecedented in American politics.
It began on Sunday afternoon, when Trump tweeted a self-congratulatory humble-brag at the world, saying, "Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism." That comment brought swift condemnation from those furious that Donald Trump had managed to make the deaths of 49 people somehow all about Donald Trump. It wasn't surprising that Trump would try to link the shooting to his dictatorial stance on Islam, but to essentially turn it into a promo for how smart and generally terrific he is was nothing short of nauseating. If Trump had left it at that he likely would've been remembered as a reprehensibly pompous asshole right when the public needed real consolation and understanding. But of course there was more. There's been more. All day today.
In what may be the single most startling and incendiary statement ever made by a presumptive nominee for President of the United States in modern times, Donald Trump this morning insinuated that a sitting president was a secret terrorist sympathizer. It happened, of course, during a phone interview with the couch clowns of Fox & Friends. "Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind. And the something else in mind—you know, people can’t believe it," Trump said. "People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words 'radical Islamic terrorism.' There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on." The implication was clear: Barack Obama is a Manchurian president, a Muslim or Muslim-friendly backer of terrorism who understood why an Islamic man of Afghan descent would want to allegedly harm America.
Now certainly, Trump has made this kind of claim before about Barack Obama, back in 2011 when it earned him a place in the news night after night, but he's now, for all intents and purposes, the leader of the Republican party. It's simply unheard-of for someone in his position to be dispensing lunatic conspiracy theories of the Alex Jones variety, claims at home only in the basement of the internet and that it's almost impossible to imagine discussed openly during a presidential campaign. The reaction to this, by the way, has been swift and surprisingly merciless. Rolling Stone said the comment should immediately disqualify Trump as a potential heir to the White House. Jake Tapper, as unbiased a journalist as you're likely to find within the political media, expressed genuine shock and hammered Trump on CNN, calling his comments "truly offensive." But it still doesn't end there.
This afternoon, Trump doubled-down on his call for all Muslim immigration to be banned "temporarily." In an official address, complete with Teleprompters and everything, meaning that it wasn't simply something stated off the cuff, Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton wants to disarm Americans and allow them to be massacred by Islamic terrorists and that in response to the Orlando shooting it's become more obvious than ever that America needs to ban Muslim travel. He said this while calling the Pulse shooter a foreigner (he wasn't) and somehow thinking his ban would have stopped his actions (it wouldn't have). As CNN reported, in a speech it said "played loose with the facts and was rife with inflammatory rhetoric," Trump hinted at a broad expansion of presidential powers were he to be elected, claiming that through executive order he would bar immigration and travel from Muslim countries and ones with a history of terrorism.
Topping all of this off, Donald Trump today continued his war against the media, declaring that he was revoking the press credentials of the "phony and dishonest" Washington Post. What this basically means is that the Post is banned from Trump campaign events, adding it to the growing list of media outlets who've had their credentials pulled by Trump, including Univision, The Huffington Post, and The Daily Beast. So Trump's media enemies list grows and now includes one of the most respected newspapers in the country. It's worth noting that Trump has spent months at war with the Post, that he's threatened lawsuits against owner Jeff Bezos and said that if elected he'd "go after him." Trump has also promised to "open up our libel laws" in the United States to make it easier for him to sue any media outlet that publishes adversarial journalism about him -- what Trump always denounces as unfair and sleazy.
So that's it. That's just the past 48 hours for Donald Trump. Maybe more than any single period of time, the last two days have shown us in an unqualified way not only how thoroughly unfit for any elected office, let alone the presidency, Trump is, but nearly every single reason why this is. We've seen examples of his gargantuan megalomania, his denial of compassion for others, his volatility and petulance as a response to stress, his pathological lying and lack of command of the basic facts, his bigotry, his conspiratorial bent, and his petty authoritarianism and disdain for the very freedoms this country was founded on. His response to Orlando has been so calamitous, in fact, that it's hard not to wonder whether he really is trying to purposely throw the election so he can go back to his easy life -- the life he had before he somehow wound up being the Republican nominee for president.
Regardless, the end result has to be exactly that, whether Trump intends it or not. One way or the other, Donald Trump has to be banished from even the threat of becoming the leader of the free world. Because think about that. Think about Donald Trump -- this nightmarish character, this man totally unfit for governance -- being allowed to lead the world. It should, in reality, be unthinkable. Under no circumstances can a President Trump be allowed to happen. America as we know it would never survive it.