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I am tempted to make this column a single sentence: All politicians, please shut the H-E-double-hockey-sticks up.
The politicization of the Orlando mass shooting – in many cases even before all of the facts were in – is disgusting.
On social media, people were no better, breaking down immediately into predictably polarized "team loyalty" camps. You know the talking points by now.
On the left, they rushed to blame guns as the primary focus, and some took that further and blamed Republicans. One Milwaukee legislator, Mandela Barnes, attacked Christians for being anti-gay in the wake of Orlando and trashed pro-gun politicians, presumably of the opposite political party (talk about a non-sequitur in this case, since the shooter was neither a Christian nor a Republican).
On the right, they rushed to blame the president, trashing him endlessly for refusing to say "radical Islamist." I don’t think President Obama has gotten everything right, but it’s rather despicable that some people seemed to direct their ire toward Obama as first instinct. In his first press conference, Obama was speaking in the midst of a very fluid investigation and situation, and I think it would have been a mistake for him not to speak cautiously until motives were more firmly determined.
It seems that we have forgotten who the bad guy is here. It’s not each other. It’s a disturbed mass shooter who may have acted for various reasons, including pledging allegiance to ISIS, his own religious bigotry or perhaps due to conflicts over his self-identity (reports surfaced that he, himself, was gay). Although he’s motivated by ISIS, there’s no sign that he was trained by them.
Let’s dial back the rhetoric for a moment, and remember the days immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. We came together as a nation; we didn’t pull farther apart.
I know those on the left will blame Donald Trump, who always seems to take the first swing. Trump was particularly distasteful in the wake of Orlando, to be sure. The worst mass shooting on American soil occurs (other than Wounded Knee), and he’s focused on the Washington Post? The Post (and others) accused Trump of accusing the president of being part of the Orlando shooting, reading into the vagueness of his obviously not nice but somewhat subjective remarks.
President Obama then gave an uncharacteristically angry news conference railing at Trump (CNN even called it a "tirade"), which then caused Trump to rail at Obama. At some point, Hillary chimed in and railed at Trump, but not by name, and finally used the phrase "radical Islamist."
At which point, I just wanted to tell them all to shut up and focus on the victims, to be honest. Couldn’t they at least wait a week?
The dysfunctional political rhetoric stands in direct contrast to the emotional response by many in the public, including the moving rally at City Hall in Milwaukee. But if I get one more pro or anti-gun control meme in my Facebook newsfeed, I am going to run screaming away from the computer. The social media instapunditry wasn’t that far removed from the political response.
In truth, our exceptionally negative and corrosive political environment – which has been ugly for quite some time, well before Trump jacked it up more, abetted by a media that thrives on conflict – prevents us from recognizing that the best solution might draw from all points of view. We should at least consider what each other has to say. I don’t think "one side" has all the answers when it comes to combating terrorism. Each side just has its own pet issues to emphasize.
For example, on gun control. My problem with the left is the over emphasis on gun control and American laws as if it’s the panacea and best (most pressing) solution to stop terrorists motivated by foreign movements like ISIS. Terrorists will adapt their tactics. Remove the tool, and they will find another tool. On 9/11, they used box cutters and airplanes. Take away weapons of the sort used by the Orlando shooter, and they are going to get them on the black market or find another tactic, like suicide bombs or the pipe bombs employed in Boston.
My problem with the right is not acknowledging that weapons like those used by the Orlando shooter make mass shootings easier and that our country alone has a big problem with them. I think we should acknowledge that gun control is probably not going to solve much when it comes to terrorism. However, I am not viscerally against an assault weapons ban or a ban on guns such as those used by the Orlando shooter. It should be considered.
I find the arguments on the right about needing assault weapons as protection from tyrannical government to be unrooted in current realities. The Second Amendment is not absolute. We don’t let felons carry guns, for example. We shouldn’t start with the premise that it can’t be touched. We should be able to have reasonable debates on these points. At the same time, the left loses me when they head toward the silly extreme, such as when a Rolling Stone writer called for repealing the Second Amendment completely, even arguing it would have been bad if some of the victims in Orlando had guns because it could have led to more bloodshed (that was probably one of the dumbest arguments I have ever read in a major American magazine). I think we should also revisit why people on the no fly list can buy guns. I understand the concerns on the right (ignored by the left) that the no-fly list is riddled with errors, but then fix the no-fly list. Since Omar Mateen had previously been investigated by the FBI for terrorism, it would be nice if an alert had been sent to the FBI when he tried to buy a gun, even though he hadn’t been convicted of anything.
My point is: There are a lot of gray areas in this debate.
As for the president not using the term "radical Islamist" or some variation, I think both sides have a point here. The president is right that words aren’t strategy, and the right overemphasizes this point as if terrorists will miraculously vanish if Obama would JUST UTTER THE WORDS. However, the right has a point that we should be able to concretely identify the enemy, and Obama compounds the point when his primary solution seems to be gun control, and his foreign policy seems incoherent.
Ultimately, I care far more about what our strategy is for defeating ISIS, when it comes to stopping terrorism. And this is where I do think the president has dropped the ball. By precipitously withdrawing the troops from Iraq, he helped create a massive vacuum that ISIS filled. Obama inherited a very problematic war – and, yes, we should blame Bush for that – but I expected him not to lose it or the region to something far worse.
The truth is that ISIS has been hideously tossing LGBT people off of rooftops for months now, as all of the powers of the world watch. Well, not just watch exactly, but why haven’t all of the powers of the world been able to put a stop to this by now?
We owe the Iraqi people a moral debt. We invaded their country, broke it and promised them freedom. Then we left them in the hands of a terror far worse. I am not quite sure of the solution; I just know that the current strategies are not inspiring confidence that they are working. That matters more than the words the president uses, and it's as worthy of discussion as gun control.
The war in Iraq was not a moral imperative; however, ISIS is. The law of unintended consequences can be powerful indeed. It would be nice if the future president fell somewhere in between Trump and Bush’s extremes and Obama’s reticence. I am not sure Hillary fits that bill. It’s also true that Bush’s strategy bogged terrorists down overseas and had them on the run, at least post 9/11; then again, he invaded a country that had not attacked us, costing American lives and starting the chain of events that led to this. I think we need a more proactive strategy than Obama has employed, but a smarter and more restrained one than Bush used. Can’t we find someone in between? Instead, we get all of this utter nonsense.
As for Trump, he goes too far when he talks about banning Muslims (obviously). It’s odious and un-American. He has since changed his tune to a ban on immigration from countries connected to terrorism. There is some precedent for this that the left doesn’t want to acknowledge; President Jimmy Carter stopped visas to Iranians, although he allowed humanitarian exception. And, yes, I get it: All Muslims are not our enemy – obviously – and the Florida shooter was born in America.
Trump also goes too far when he talks inhumanely and unworkably about mass deportations of illegal immigrants. However, I do think we need to improve our porous border security in the wake of terrorist threats, as well as check on people who've overstayed their visas and so forth. That’s just common sense. We should make sure any refugees we allow in are truly vetted. Yet, the left doesn’t seem to want to talk about immigration and border security any more than the right wants to talk about guns. People just want to use tragedy to attack each other.
I don’t claim all of the ideas above are perfect; I am just trying to highlight how we could be having the conversations: Using logic that we then counter with other logic in a way that builds toward common ground.
The truth of the matter is that there is some truth on both sides, but rather than having a conversation about what each "side" has to offer the debate, we just argue as if "our side" has the magic bullet and the other side somehow caused Orlando. I’m sick of it. Aren’t you?
Jessica McBride spent a decade as an investigative, crime, and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a former City Hall reporter/current columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.
She is the recipient of national and state journalism awards in topics that include short feature writing, investigative journalism, spot news reporting, magazine writing, blogging, web journalism, column writing, and background/interpretive reporting. McBride, a senior journalism lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has taught journalism courses since 2000.
Her journalistic and opinion work has also appeared in broadcast, newspaper, magazine, and online formats, including Patch.com, Milwaukee Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, El Conquistador Latino newspaper, Investigation Discovery Channel, History Channel, WMCS 1290 AM, WTMJ 620 AM, and Wispolitics.com. She is the recipient of the 2008 UWM Alumni Foundation teaching excellence award for academic staff for her work in media diversity and innovative media formats and is the co-founder of Media Milwaukee.com, the UWM journalism department's award-winning online news site. McBride comes from a long-time Milwaukee journalism family. Her grandparents, Raymond and Marian McBride, were reporters for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel.
Her opinions reflect her own not the institution where she works.