Merciless Slaughter

The Orlando massacre has divided a polarized nation even further and Donald Trump is exploiting the fear. Is it too late to stop him?

For many Americans, sunny Orlando, Florida is synonymous with Disney World. Millions of tourists flock to the Magic Kingdom and other theme parks in the greater Orlando area every year to visit the make-believe worlds of Mickey and Minnie Mouse or Cinderella’s Castle, which somehow looks a lot like Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. Since the mass murder in the gay and lesbian Pulse disco, Orlando is in a public spotlight of an entirely different kind, namely the difficult question of what kind of nation the U.S. wants to be. Are these states really unified, and if so how? How do Americans deal with the fact that the shooter — who died during his murderous act – was a naturalized American citizen with Afghan roots who swore allegiance to the Islamic State by telephone shortly before he began killing?

It is sobering to think that the suffering and the supposed common human compassion in Orlando didn’t serve to unite the people; on the contrary, it seems to have deepened the clefts. The reactions to the shootings and the deaths in the disco brought out several controversial subjects simultaneously: So-called Islamic terrorism, Islam itself, immigration bans, gun violence and, last but not least, acceptance of the LGBT lifestyle because the attack wasn’t just random, nor was it aimed at people in general. The perpetrator targeted homosexuals exclusively. Despite the fact that gay rights have been codified by law since June 2015, that’s a point that is questioned by many American conservatives on religious grounds and largely goes unmentioned during graveside memorials.

It’s not easy to say what is happening in the U.S. at the moment; whether the fears generated in Orlando lead toward an authoritarian mindset and Donald Trump. The presidential candidate, de facto head of the political opposition, scored points in the primaries as a man of strength who cared little about political correctness and publicly patted himself on the back in the first tweet he sent in the wake of the massacre saying he had been right with his warnings about “Islamic terrorism.”

He again called for a moratorium on immigration, this time for people “from countries with a clear record of terrorist ties,” and charged that Muslims in San Bernardino had knowledge about those involved in the December attack there but failed to report anyone to police authorities. When The Washington Post criticized him, he barred the newspaper from covering any Trump events and described it as “dishonest” and “phony.”

A New Quality to the Rabble-Rousing

Polarization and hostility have always been with us in America. During the Cold War, critics of the United States were sarcastically referred to as our “Soviet friends” and the civil rights movement was opposed with violent white hatred. But Trump’s rabble-rousing goes beyond just right-wing populism and is in a class all by itself. He lies, stokes fear and primitive hatreds and proposes simplistic solutions to complex problems. Solutions for strong men, democracy not necessary.

Trump even distrusts the president himself. On Fox News he speculated, “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.” Such statements are unspeakable; worse yet, no one in the Republican Party openly contradicts him. Relevant politicians remain loyal to their candidate. Many in the Republican base applaud enthusiastically whenever Trump brings up his intention to build a wall along the Mexican border, and Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House of Representatives and 2012 presidential candidate, suggests Congress consider re-establishing the House Un-American Activities Committee.

There are no simple solutions to the problem of fighting terrorism in one’s own country – and least of all comprehensive solutions. A witness in Orlando testified she overheard a portion of the shooter’s phone conversation in which he said he wished America would stop bombarding his homeland. Several days after the attack, President Obama mentioned tactical progress being made against the Islamic State group and even mentioned that additional U.S. personnel, including special forces, would begin engaging in Syria. Edward Henson, a former New York City policeman, owns the gun shop in Port St. Lucie, Florida, where the shooter purchased two of the murder weapons. Henson was interviewed briefly on camera shortly after the shootings saying he was sorry the guns came from his establishment but that everything was done by the book and legally.

For potential lone wolf combatants from the Islamic State group, the United States is an ideal environment for action: Where is it easier to acquire the guns they need? In the debate over stricter gun control laws Orlando has had no effect. The presidential election on Nov. 8 will show which nation the majority of Americans wants to have.

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