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The Pulse Reaction: When Tragedy Meets Politics

Pulse nightclub

Tragedy is an unavoidable part of life, and when it strikes, people have many different ways of coping with it. A lunatic walks into a nightclub in Orlando and kills forty-nine people, and it's natural to want to point your finger at something or someone to blame so you can assuage your grief with the belief that, if you changed something, you could prevent such a tragedy from occurring again. In some cases, it is possible to find ways to minimize tragedy, and so a discussion of what should be done in the aftermath of something like what happened in Orlando is warranted and healthy.

There is a fine line, however, between constructive discussion and exploiting tragedy to leap to flawed conclusions that support your personal beliefs. For the average person, we should be forgiving when this happens. I don't subscribe to the notion that we should shame people at the water cooler who want to get political in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy. For some, it's a coping mechanism, a way to wrap themselves in a warm, comfortable angst they've built up over many years so that they don't have to confront the brutal truth: a single tragedy will almost never fit into a simple narrative with a simple moral. I let them rant, and may even engage in spirited debate. It's more fun than just grieving, and that's okay.

Obama after Pulse
President Obama: never letting a tragedy go to waste when it can be useful for his agenda

Where the line should be drawn, however, is when a politician does it. This is why I was frustrated at the President of the United States who, while the dead were still being counted, went off on a familiar rant about gun control. We can have the discussion about gun control, of course, but encouraging people to act when their passions are inflamed is a surefire way to create tyranny. (Look, for example, at the speed with which the Patriot Act was initially passed.) Then Congressional Democrats, after refusing to vote on Republican-sponsored gun control measures that would respect people's Fifth Amendment right to due process, staged a sit-in on the floor of the Senate, proclaiming that Republicans are intransigent ideologues and something must be done now, dammit, because the Republicans wouldn't vote for the Democratic-sponsored gun control measures.

It's infuriating political theater, not because I generally oppose gun control, but because it's a distraction from the productive discussion we should be having about how and why our government--specifically the FBI--failed to stop this, even when they had multiple warning signs that Omar Mateen, the shooter, was going to do something. The FBI interviewed him three times, was tipped off by a gun shop owner and friggin' Walt Disney World that this guy was potentially dangerous, and yet they still let him go with a shrug so that he could later take his fateful trip to the Pulse nightclub. If there are laws that need to be passed to prevent something like this happening again, surely something to do with how the FBI assesses threats would be more useful than banning a rare type of gun that wasn't even used in the shooting or doing away with due process because we're frightened.

Republican Hate Kills
Do you even logic?

And, of course, there are those who decide to point the finger of blame on their political opponents themselves. A rally for the victims was held in New York just the other day, and the participants carried a banner that said, "REPUBLICAN HATE KILLS." It's not the only example of people blaming Republicans for the Pulse shooting, but it's no more or less confounding on its logical merits. Yes, the Pulse nightclub is a gay club. Yes, Republicans, generally speaking, have political beliefs that are borderline homophobic, especially when it comes to things like marriage. And though I hate to assign motives to a homocidal madman, I have no doubt homophobia was a big part of what drove Mateen to commit his horrible act.

But it's still a gargantuan stretch to say Republicans have anything to do with the shooting. For one thing, Mateen was a registered Democrat. I don't think that matters, because I don't believe his political party affiliation is even remotely relevant, but it is certainly evidence against the theory that he was driven to kill by Republican hate-mongering. For another thing, maybe--just maybe--Mateen's twisted interpretation of Islam and his vocalized allegiance to ISIS (a group that, let me remind you, beheads homosexuals) have more to do with his thought process than Republicans who voice anger at the Supreme Court for legitimizing gay marriage.

Noor Salman and Omar Mateen
At this particular moment, maybe we should be more worried that the FBI lost Mateen's wife

If believing that a lack of gun control or the mere existence of Republicans are the reasons this happened helps you sleep at night, you go right on ahead believing it. Just don't expect me to sit back and agree with you. I'm happy to debate the merits of your arguments, and I will parry with my own beliefs that a better response to this particular shooting would be an examination of FBI protocols and our foreign policy as it regards ISIS and radical Islamic terror in general. It would certainly be more useful than a bunch of Congressmen sitting around doing nothing and getting paid taxpayer money for it.

-e. magill 6/29/2016

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