After spending his morning arguing to various television hosts that President Obama might be an ISIS sleeper agent, Donald Trump delivered what was intended to be his meatier, more presidential statement on the mass shooting in Orlando. This was, by our count, the third time in his incessantly yappy life that Trump has delivered remarks from a ’prompter, although the prepared text bears only a loose structural resemblance to the words that tumbled out of his mouth.
And what came out of his mouth was the usual mix of terror and absurdity from which no preparation can extract him. As expected, he painted all American Muslims not as constituents but as foreign bodies with whom the government must negotiate, if it can’t block them out first.
Terror, because he was reiterating his nauseating policy proposals that put him not simply near, but at one with, the far-right nationalist parties of Western Europe. And absurdity because those policies, largely centered around immigration, had no linkage to what happened in Orlando. (In a more comical aside, Trump tried to drive a wedge between Hillary Clinton and her LGBT supporters. Donald, Donald, Donald. That’s just not going to happen.)
Omar Mateen was an American citizen who, like Trump himself, was born in Queens. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee tried to shoehorn the problem presented by Mateen into his justification for banning Muslims from the United States. He did this because, well, of course he did. “The killer whose name I will not use or ever say was born in Afghan—of Afghan parents who immigrated to the United States,” he said, screwing up immediately. Mateen’s parents may hold some bad opinions, but they didn’t kill anyone nor did they urge their son to. So what was Trump’s point?
“The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America in the first place is because we allowed his family to come here,” he said. “That is a fact and it’s a fact we need to talk about.”
What’s there to talk about? An immigrant family comes, has children, and 30 years later that child turns out to be a madman. Big news: The vast majority of murderers in American history have descended from an immigrant. Same with every non-murderer, while we’re at it. That the child of an immigrant turns out to be a nutcase should not be cause for a blanket refusal of all immigrants from a certain country, or of a certain faith.
That’s exactly what the moment calls for, in Trump’s mind. “When I’m elected,” he said, “I will suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we fully understand how to end these threats.” Let’s simply reiterate that this killing spree had nothing but nothing to do with Mateen’s immigration status, since he had no immigration status, since he was an American. What’s troubling is not that Trump thinks it did, but that Trump said it because he bets—and he’s probably right—that a lot of potential voters think it did, too.
Not long after branding all Muslims, regardless of citizenship or birth status, as dangerous immigrants, Trump, always gracious, appeared to offer some sort of… peace offering? To American Muslims? “We have to form a partnership with our Muslim communities,” he said, assuming the naturally foreign status of Muslims as a distinct entity with whom “we,” presumably the Real Americans, have to negotiate. “We have Muslim communities in this country that are great,” he offered, charitably. “And we have to form that partnership. Now, the Muslim community, so importantly, they have to work with us.” From there, he introduced the stick:
They have to cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad—and they know it. And they have to do it and they have to do it forthwith… But I want every American to succeed, including Muslims. But the Muslims have to work with us. They have to work with us. … So when people know what’s going on, and they don’t tell us, and we have an attack and people die, these people have to have consequences. Big consequences.
This is just not how you speak about people whom you believe to be equals with their fellow citizens. You don’t presume that members of the “Muslim community” are sitting on information and offer them ultimatums in lieu of interaction or respect. Any mind that would consider this passage gracious or reasonable, rather than a not-so-veiled threat of extra-constitutional retaliation, belongs nowhere near the exercise of public power.