Center Field: When the dark arts of terrorism and demagoguery dominate

Few wish to live in a world where the loudest politician and the most violent terrorist can hijack the headlines – and our attention – so easily.

By
June 14, 2016 22:10
4 minute read.
Trump

Donald Trump.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

An author writing an historical novel about the Obama administration could have started it with a lone-wolf, pro-Islamic State terrorist spraying automatic weapon fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, 29 km. from Disney World. The novelist would then be able to describe gays’ fast-tracked mainstreaming under Obama, America’s continuing emergence as the world’s largest playground, the scourge of gun violence, the Islamist hatred of America even with a president who refuses to link the words “Islamist” and “terrorism,” and the ongoing bipartisan blindness – with many Democrats ignoring Islamism’s grotesquerie and many Republicans ignoring the uncontrolled violence that some intelligent gun control could control.

Similarly, Zionists trying to shake the world out of its complacency regarding Palestinian terrorism and dissolve the sick Red-Green Leftist-Islamist alliance can drive important points home after an Islamist terrorist attack in a gay nightclub. All terrorism victims are not alike – but should be. Brutal murders of Israelis, even when they are just wining and dining in Tel Aviv, do not upset most of the world’s trend setters as much as massacres of gays – or of Parisian revelers, as we learned last fall. Just like many Ivy Leaguers yawned when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ranted about killing Jews, but protested furiously when he came to Columbia University and denied there were gays in Iran, an Islamist bigot slaughtering gays might convince the politically correct crowd how dangerous Islamism is. (Although Obama still emphasized anti- LGBT hatred and the danger of guns more than the attacker’s twisted Islamist ideology).

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I confess, it’s awful how quickly we jump into scoring political points off these horrors. There’s something vulgar about assessing this mass murder’s political fallout with so many bodies still awaiting burial. But terrorism is crime with a political agenda – making the political implications relevant, even while mourning with the grieving families.

Tragically, the mayhem again highlighted the depths to which America’s 2016 campaign has sunk. The Orlando shooting triggered the expected responses.

Donald Trump congratulated himself “for being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” and pilloried President Barack Obama, wondering if he is “going to finally mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’? If he doesn’t he should immediately resign in disgrace!” In fact, whenever Obama downplays the Islamist threat, he boosts Trump. Trump has cleverly gussied up his browbeating as truth-telling, an impression Democrats reinforce when they are too politically correct to address issues like Islamist terrorism honestly, bluntly.

Equally predictably, Obama and Clinton again demanded gun control. Clinton proclaimed that “weapons of war have no place on our streets.”

That law-and-order conservative types can tolerate such easy access to such lethal weapons says much about doctrinaire rightists’ unwillingness to recognize modern crime’s true nature.

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan realized there were too many guns floating around to control them effectively. His solution: crack down on ammunition.

Make it hard to get and expensive. Once manufactured, guns last for decades. Ammunition is used quickly and needs replacement.

Second, stop giving guns special status in America. If everyone needs lessons, exams and licensing to drive, shouldn’t it be even harder to shoot? And in a country where you can sue McDonald’s if you spill its hot coffee on yourself, gun manufacturers should be held liable for the destruction they manufacture.

Most important, Americans should learn from Israelis about gun discipline. Guns are more prevalent in Israel than in the US – but the education about guns is more intensive and the culture less indulgent of those who abuse the right to bear arms. Ultimately, Israelis’ mass restraint around guns, with remarkably few gun-related crimes, proves that America’s gun problem is mostly cultural and educational.

Just as Hamas has a vote in Israel, meaning the power to sway Israeli elections with well-timed political crimes, Islamic State and Islamist-inspired lone wolves have a vote in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Shrewd candidates know how to use headlines to boost their efforts, rather than appearing to be hostages to fortune. Normally, an experienced secretary of state running against a rookie would benefit from world instability. However, terrorists justify Trumpism. Trump has exploited Islamist terrorism best – although he may overreact so much Americans end up rejecting his bigotry.

Hillary Clinton’s vulnerability on the terrorism issue reflects how weak a candidate she is. Trying to protect herself from Trump’s demagoguery, Clinton is starting to do what Obama should have done for eight years now – defend Islam while denouncing Islamist terrorism – just as one can acknowledge Palestinian nationalism but abhor Palestinian terrorism. Alas, Hillary’s fears of Sanders voters and Obama fans are still constraining her, allowing Trump to play the tough guy, winning votes, as she waits around, hoping his aggressive approach alienates more people than it seduces.

Terrorism, delegitimization campaigns, the great American gun fight, and presidential elections are all types of political theater – elaborate public dramas making broad points and shaping public attitudes.

Unfortunately, today, politics by punchline and by punch dominate. Citizens are often too punch drunk from all the bullying to debate reasonably. Few wish to live in a world where the loudest politician and the most violent terrorist can hijack the headlines – and our attention – so easily. We need a politics of paragraphs not tweets, of reason not bluster, of idealism not brutality, of enlightened debate not dark arts. In truth, historically the negative has often dominated – but that shouldn’t stop us from demanding something better.

The writer, a professor of history at McGill University, is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, published by St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea. Follow on Twitter @ GilTroy.


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