[Content Note: Pulse Shooting; guns; terrorism; homophobia; racism; Islamophobia.]
[Transcript available here.]
So President Obama gave a speech yesterday, on the current fight against IS, the mass shooting early Sunday morning during a Latinx event at an LGBTx nightclub in Orlando, and, relatedly, on our obscenely lax gun laws and Donald Trump's repugnant calls for multiple anti-Muslim policies.
This is yet another time when, despite my occasional disagreements with and disappointments in Obama, I am exceedingly relieved that it is he who currently occupies the Oval Office. And it is approximately the five millionth time that I am horrified at even the slim possibility that Trump would be the next person to do so.
Obama is also clearly repulsed by Trump and with the ever-darker and scarier road his candidacy is going down. While Obama never actually mentioned Trump's name in this speech, it is obvious about whom he is speaking throughout. And it is also obvious to whom he is likely speaking: Those voters, whether they be Republicans, independents, or sour-grapes Sanders' fans, who say they just couldn't bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton in November.
He wants people to understand what is at stake here. Sure, every four years people say, "This election is different, this one is the worst," so it begins to seem like a cliché. But it's not. It really is different this year, and moreover, it's a...different kind of different.
Imagine all of the worst elements of all of the conservative Republicans in elective office—misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, white supremacy, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, and so on. Imagine them being combined into one loud and powerful person, and then, through that person's bombast, arrogance, ignorance, opportunistic and wide-ranging bigotry, and utter dearth of empathy, being amplified to a degree that would seem cartoonish if it weren't so frighteningly, obviously, real.
Obama gets this, and so do Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and a lot of other people. But a lot of voters still refuse to see it, and still obstinately deny the truth of what a potential Trump administration would do to the fabric and soul of this country, to our most marginalized citizens, and ultimately to the world and our place in it.
After explaining at length the current state of the fight against ISIS abroad and the efforts to thwart terrorist activity within our own borders, Obama spoke of the directly-related need to reform our gun laws:
Lastly, here at home, if we really want to help law enforcement protect Americans from home-grown extremists, the kind of tragedies that occurred at San Bernardino and now that have occurred in Orlando, there is a meaningful way to do that. We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war that let them kill dozens of innocents. …We should give ATF the resources they need to enforce the gun laws that we already have.Like Melissa, I am part of the "no-gun culture", and reinstating the assault weapons ban, while it obviously would not immediately remove every one of these tools of war from the country, is absolutely imperative to the incremental fight against gun violence and the odious gun-rights lobby. There is no legitimate reason for anyone to have weapons like these.
People with possible ties to terrorism, who are not allowed on a plane, should not be allowed to buy a gun. Enough talking about being tough on terrorism. Actually be tough on terrorism and stop making it easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons.
Reinstate the assault weapons ban, make it harder for terrorists to use these weapons to kill us. Otherwise, despite extraordinary efforts across our government, by local law enforcement, by our intelligence agencies, by our military—despite all the sacrifices that folks make, these kinds of events are going to keep on happening. And the weapons are only going to get more powerful.
Obama then segued into the strongest and most forcefully emotional portion of his speech, where he called out the abhorrent Islamophobia of Trump and many others, dismissed the ridiculous semantic arguments that they seem convinced are what matters most in this fight, and spoke up vehemently in defense of Muslim Americans.
And let me make a final point. For a while now, the main contribution some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against ISIL is to criticize the administration and me for not using the phrase "radical Islam." That's the key, they tell us. We cannot beat ISIL unless we call them radical Islamists.It is so incredibly important to have our president say these things to a national audience. I can only imagine how relieving it must be for Muslims here and abroad to hear these words from Obama after being assaulted with and terrified by the spewings of Trump. To know that our president is on their side and sees them as fully worthy and noble people, as citizens of completely equal worth and value as anyone else, rather than as some kind of abstract shadowy villains who should be seen as a clear threat first, foremost, and always.
What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to try to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this?
The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction.
…There has not been a moment in my 7.5 years as president where we have not been able to pursue a strategy because we didn't use the label "radical Islam." Not once has an adviser of mine said, "Man, if we use that phrase, we are going to turn this whole thing around," not once.
…And the reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with actually defeating extremism. Groups like ISIL and Al Qaida want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West.
…And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims as a broad brush, and imply that we are at war with the entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists' work for them.
…We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States to bar all Muslims from immigrating into America. And you hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complacent in violence.
Where does this stop? The Orlando killer, one of the San Bernardino killers, the Fort Hood killer - they were all U.S. citizens. Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start to discriminate them, because of their faith? We heard these suggestions during the course of this campaign. Do Republican officials actually agree with this?
Because that's not the American we want. It does not reflect our Democratic ideals. It won't make us more safe, it will make us less safe, fueling ISIL's notion that the West hates Muslims, making Muslims in this country and around the world feel like, no matter what they do, they're going to be under suspicion and under attack.
It makes Muslim Americans feel like their government is betraying them. It betrays the very values America stands for.
[CN: Video autoplays at link.] And it is just as important for the voters of this country to hear what Obama is saying, to hear also what Clinton is saying, and to realize what we are actually confronting in this election. The unaccountably pervasive idea that there's hardly any appreciable difference between Clinton and Trump is becoming more and more laughable and obtuse every day, and continuing to think that way is only going to serve to throw the most marginalized groups in the country under the bus.
How anyone can claim that doing so makes them the "true progressives" is totally beyond me.
It is the opposite of progressive to be willing to inflict harm on others in service of your own ego or stubborn beliefs. Being a sore loser who is wrapped in privilege and thus okay with letting the world burn because you'll likely only get singed is not progressive, it is not realistic, it is not principled, and I steadfastly believe it is not American, not in 2016.
There are, of course, valid and reasonable criticisms to be made of Clinton and of some of her policy ideas and political views. People will have their differences with any candidate, and everyone draws their lines in different places. For myself, as a staunch opponent of the death penalty, I am very disappointed that she still supports it in some cases, and I hope that this is another area where activists, especially people of color, and most especially Black people, who are disproportionately targeted for capital punishment, can push her to the left and to adopt a more progressive and humane view of the topic.
But for me, any of these legitimate critiques about Clinton are dwarfed exponentially and grotesquely by Trump. And with Clinton, they are only a part of who she is as a person and a politician, and are accompanied by many other areas where she is thoughtful, intelligent, empathetic, willing to learn and to change. Trump is and never will be any of those things.
Donald Trump is who he says he is, and as bad as he seems on any given day, it is only overshadowed by how much worse he will be tomorrow. And if people shrug and turn away and allow him to become President, he'll have a whole lot of tomorrows to show us just how far down he can sink, and he'll have the power to drag us all down with him.