You have heard, and will likely continue to hear, the Forty-Fifth President of the United States accused of manifold insensitivities and indiscretions. But one thing he’ll never be accused of is tactfulness.
Just hours after the fall of the World Trade Center, Donald Trump went out of his way to point out that a property of his, a 40 Wall Street, was once again the tallest building in downtown Manhattan. Whether or not he was “bragging” is immaterial — the man was being insensitive, plain and simple.
That was fifteen years ago. Have the additional years improved Trump’s social graces or only seen them deteriorate further?
If you want to find out, just one look at his tweets so far — or “official presidential statements,” as Sean Spicer now calls them — about the recent rash of terrorist attacks is really all you need. Said Trump after the London attack:
“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”
Using tragedy to promote a draconian, unpopular and transparently xenophobic national policy is just the start.
Tact in the Wake of Tragedy
First thing’s first: A look at how to properly respond to terrorist attacks, for the uninitiated and the graceless.
This man was interviewed by the BBC as a witness to the most recent attack which targeted London. His class and unflappability would be admirable in just about any context:
“If [going out with friends] is what offends these people, then I’m going to do it more, not less.”
That’s what terrorism is. It’s an attempt to scare you into behaving differently or otherwise abandoning “normal life” — whatever that might mean to you, individually. Doubling-down on your commitment to living well, peaceably and without succumbing to fear is the proper response when some superstitious, murderous zealot comes to town and tries to kill you.
How Not to Respond (Especially If You’re a President)
As Monty Python might say, “And now for something completely different.”
Donald Trump is not particularly unique in the way he selectively and hysterically responds to upsetting world events. Have you, for instance, heard many Republicans and Democrats reference attacks perpetuated on Muslims — or do they simply pounce when Muslims are the perpetrators?
Do they call attacks on community health clinics what they are — Christian terrorism — when the attacker is white and fears America’s God instead of the God of the Middle East?
Do they condemn the government of Saudi Arabia for beheading its citizens for the “crime” of “practicing” atheism? Of course not. But that’s not bad enough. We don’t merely refuse to condemn their hideous behavior — we tacitly support it by regularly selling them weapons of incredible destructive capabilities.
No — these things largely get ignored in America because they’re politically inconvenient. So let’s dispense with the idea that “Islamic” or “Islamist” terrorism is the only kind at work in the world today. This fallacy lies at the heart of our President’s tactless and tone-deaf responses to the kind of terrorism he’s paying attention to.
Nevertheless, today, any way you choose to quantify it, America is at once safer and more accepting than it has ever been. So why does the President insist on answering every single tragedy by fanning the flames of hysteria?
“At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’”
The response from the Twitterverse was swift and included some likely and unlikely names:
- David Lammy (a member of Parliament): “Cheap nasty & unbecoming of a national leader. Sort of thing that makes me want to quit politics on a day like this. Evil everywhere we look.”
- K. Rowling (author of “Harry Potter”): “It’s called ‘leadership’, Donald. The terrorists were dead 8 minutes after police got the call. If we need an alarmist blowhard, we’ll call.”
But while D.J. Trump might spend most of his waking hours with his head and tiny thumbs plugged into Twitter’s comfortable alternate reality, the rest of the world was busy doing what it does best: continue on in defiance of the some of the people here who choose to be murderous assholes.
Indeed — some of the most meaningful responses to these attacks had nothing at all to do with the President or Twitter. Ariana Grande, whose concert in Manchester was attacked by terrorists, responded quickly and decisively, not just promising to return to Manchester, but also to raise money for the victims’ families.
The effort came together extremely quickly and raised over $12 million for the cause.
While the attack was still going on, a Ms. Paula Robinson earned the nickname “Angel of Manchester” for helping rush 50 teenagers to safety mere moments after the Manchester Arena came under attack.
This is what it looks like when human beings say “No!” to living in fear.
We’re Better Than This (Even When Our Leaders Aren’t)
Donald Trump isn’t reading this, but if he was, I’d want him to know that he doesn’t have to be afraid. There are very few successful terrorist attacks carried out on American soil by foreign sympathizers for any number of reasons, not the least of which is because Americans are resilient and don’t let fear get in their way.
Anybody who’s driven an automobile in the vicinity of Pittsburg knows we have to swallow our fear on a regular basis just to survive. It’s what we do.
For another look at dozens and even hundreds of infinitely more graceful responses to terrorism than America’s president could muster, consider as a whole the outpourings of vocal, written, drawn and sung responses the people of London offered when their own city came under attack.
When an American politician tweets from his cozy, climate-conditioned office that a distant city is “reeling” or “under siege,” don’t take his word for it — see what the folks on the ground are saying and doing. You will likely be surprised.
Responding to outbursts of violence in a reasoned and rational way must be one of our highest priorities. The explicit goal of religious zealots in general is to destabilize using fear and control using dogma. Most of us know this. In 2017, President Trump’s frightened, hate-filled little dispatches are the exception — not the rule.