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The Orlando tragedy and our struggle against hate


Once again, we grieve over the victims of a mass shooting – this time, more than a hundred dead and wounded, people who were simply having a good time together in Orlando, dancing, enjoying being with friends.

The site of Sunday’s tragedy was a gay nightclub and resource center, so this massacre was likely a hate crime as well as a terrorist attack. And in this presidential election year in this deeply divided nation, the tragedy will be a potent campaign topic.

Within hours of the shooting, some members of Congress were linking the tragedy with their own concerns about ISIS-inspired terrorism and gun control, and I don’t think that does any disservice to the dead and wounded. Federal officials say that the man who wielded those guns, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, phoned 911 and pledged his allegiance to ISIS during a lull in his attack.

It is fact that some Americans, for whatever reason, are attracted to groups like ISIS, and that some of them have attacked other Americans. And it would be dangerously irresponsible for the federal government not to try to prevent more attacks.

It is also fact that guns killed and maimed innocent people in the nightclub in Orlando. Guns were involved in the San Bernadino attack, and they’ve been involved in many other horrific tragedies. And it is dangerously irresponsible for this country not to enact stronger gun-control laws.

So yes indeed: during this presidential election campaign, let’s talk about ISIS-inspired terrorism and gun control. Let’s talk, too, about how we protect our constitutional rights in the face of terrorist threats. This country does not have a good record in that area, and public officials have been able to capitalize on Americans’ fears to do some really awful things.

And let’s talk about US military and foreign policy. Barack Obama has been cautious about military commitments in conflicts in other countries, in part because he knows that our actions abroad can cause or inspire more violence, in other countries and, yes, at home.

But we also need to talk about the hatred exploding in this country: hatred of people of other sexual orientation, other ethnicities, other religions.

In his statement about Orlando on Sunday afternoon, President Obama said that “no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.” I wish I had his faith in “who we are” and in the strength of our values. Because the hatred that erupted in Orlando has been thriving in this country for a long time. In fact, some of the politicians now expressing sympathy for the victims in Orlando have been vocal in their attacks on LGBTQ people.

Nor has the LGBTQ community been alone in suffering from hatred and prejudice. African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims… all have been targets. And hatred has been alive and well, and very, very loud in this presidential campaign, coming most vocally from Donald Trump.

It took almost no time for Trump to use the Orlando tragedy to launch more vicious attacks on Muslims, insisting that “the Muslim communities” know who and where the terrorists are and won’t “turn them in.”
Trump has brought hatred out into the open, spewed it proudly, made hate a rallying cry from one end of this country to the other. Made it not only respectable but a badge of honor.

His pronouncements can serve as inspiration for his followers. And it’s immoral – and against everything this country stands for – for so many Republicans to embrace him.

“In the face of hate and violence,” President Obama insisted on Sunday, “we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other.”

I hope and I pray that he’s right. But based on what I’ve been seeing in this year’s campaign, I’m very afraid that he is not.