Monday, June 13, 2016
By Reed Galen
Quote by a Smart Person: “You don’t get unity by ignoring questions that need to be faced.” Jay Weatherill
We live our lives day by day, but we are defined by those moments which we carry with us forever. Whether a wedding, the birth of a child or an historic event, we remember the fluid details and panorama of experiences that we lose in an average Tuesday as soon as its over.
I can remember exactly where I was win the Challenger exploded on liftoff, when the first Gulf War started and a moment by moment mental reel of 9/11. Some of these moments are directly related to us. Others are outside events of which we have no part but leave their indelible mark on our personal timeline and those of everyone around us.
Political campaigns too, are marked by moments. Richard Nixon’s sweaty five o’clock shadow in 1960. The 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Ronald Reagan using his singular wit and ability to turn a negative into a positive against Walter Mondale. And of course, Michael Dukakis riding around on a tank in a helmet that reduced his stature — literally and figuratively — and became the symbol of a man not ready for the White House.
2016 has been filled with those candidate-generated moments; Donald Trump is setting the land speed record for how many of them he can produce weekly. But it has also had more than its fair share of outside events that have diverted the course and narrative of the contest. And all of them have had to do with many, many innocent people dying. Whether in Paris or Brussels or San Bernardino and now Orlando, we’ve been spectators to horrific acts of terror and bloodshed that shake our personal and national stability to their cores.
Most of the details about the attack in Orlando will take time to sort out. Why did Omar Mateen pledge allegiance to ISIS? Why was his outlet extreme violence? Why did he choose the Pulse nightclub instead of a diner? Who were the people that lost their lives? Who is still in the hospital fighting for theirs? To be sure, the political and national debate around the massacre has already escalated too quickly, will achieve too little in actual conversation or understanding and dissipate after a few weeks.
That is how we deal with tragedy in America in 2016. We are a nation uncertain of ourselves, today, tomorrow and into the future. Our collective national psyche is still badly damaged as we attempt to dig out of the wreckage — physical, financial and spiritual. We can blame our short attention span on the 722 inputs each of us has to gather news and information, but that is a cop out. If we sit and think about tragedies like Orlando for too long, it means we have to confront and come to grips with their root causes. Those are discussions that we are unfortunately all too unwilling to have.
What is the story of Orlando? Is it the story of a disturbed individual carrying out a disturbing act in an all too premeditated manner? If we find Mateen to have had a history of mental health problems, do we discuss the ongoing and overarching issues we have in that area? If, as he says, he was inspired by ISIS, are we willing to say that either our actions overseas are a contributing factor? Or are we willing to admit that, yes, even in America, someone can take their faith to a bad and dark place and carry out horrific acts in its name?
Or are we willing to discuss the fact that this man had become so disillusioned and alone that he felt that his only method in which to be remembered was to take the lives of dozens of people just out having fun on a Saturday night? How did he come by the weapons he used in the attack? Did he buy them legally? Did he buy them illegally? Should he have been allowed to do the former? How was able able to do the latter?
It would be hard to believe that the gunman didn’t know he was targeting a popular gay establishment. Was that his motivation? Was it a religiously-inspired protest against the gay and lesbian community’s strides toward acceptance, awareness and equality? Or did he simply know that there would be hundreds and hundreds of people there, many who would be unwitting victims of his treachery and bloodletting?
Our political discourse has fallen so far that the discussion has already been reduced to guns, gays and God. Our level of political discourse has fallen so far that you can’t even offer “thoughts and prayers” on Twitter or Facebook without being attacked. We should as a nation, come together in finding answers and understanding as to why and how such an attack could happen — and that doesn’t mean simply determining where the killer bought his gun.
Instead we will almost assuredly find ourselves more divided, our political envelope further pushed toward the extreme edges and our leaders content that they’ve displayed the appropriate level of outrage to score cheap political points.
After the eerily similar attack on the Bataclan Theater in Paris last fall, Donald Trump intimated that because of France’s strict firearms laws, the victims couldn’t defend themselves. Florida allows for broad firearm ownership and generally protects those who use guns in self-defense. What’s his answer this time?
If Mateen’s motivations were truly fueled by ISIS, as he claimed prior to the attack, will Hillary Clinton admit that there is such a thing as fundamentalist Islam and that it actually doesn’t like us? Even President Obama called them terrorist attacks. Are our politicians able to even imagine standing at the lectern and doing something other than triangulating how best to profit with voters with who already agree with them?
These moments define us, our relationships and ultimately our country. The city of Orlando, the families and friends of the victims, and the first responders who took out the killer, put the dead to rest, tended to the wounded and comforted others will never forget what happened Saturday night. As they attempt to find meaning and ultimately peace, instead of ratcheting up the volume on the issues that divide us, maybe just once we could put that aside and come together. If even for just a moment.