WASHINGTON, June 12, 2016 — President Obama addressed the nation this afternoon concerning the tragedy that unfolded in Florida early this morning. Omar Mateen, a Florida man, committed the largest mass shooting by a lone gunman in American history, killing at least 50 people in Orlando and wounding at least 53 more.
Mateen, an American citizen born in New York, was a Muslim. Most of the victims were gay, celebrating LGBT Pride month at a popular gay nightclub, Pulse. He used a gun that has been widely reported as an AR-15 “assault-type” rifle.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN that Mateen had pledged allegiance to ISIS. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said that intelligence sources linked the attack to ISIS and radical Islam.
The shooting is already being used to whip up passions online: It happened because of America’s gun fetish and the NRA; it was American homophobia; it was radical Muslims. The fix is easy: Ban Muslim immigrants; end hetero-normative patriarchy; arrest NRA leaders as terrorists and take the guns.
A human tendency at times of tragedy is to look for a cause, assign blame, figure out who to punish and ask “Why?” The police and FBI are working on the why, and when they find it, there will be ample time for politics. The candidates will stake their positions on gun control, immigration and homophobia, and the rest of us can run with them as we please.
A contradictory human tendency is to pull together, to comfort those who mourn, to donate blood or take someone a casserole. The impulse is to be good friends and neighbors and to do what good we can do.
The second tendency is the better one. The people of Orlando are donating blood, probably more than is needed. But it’s something positive to do. In the face of a jarring indecency, it’s an affirmation of human decency.
Daesh (ISIS) is an indecency. Our ability to tolerate and ignore hatred and brutality to others is an indecency. This shooting was an indecency.
Most of us aren’t gay, but we have friends and loved ones who are. We should draw them more tightly into our embrace and let them know that we love them. Most of us aren’t Muslim, but many of us have friends who are. We should draw them close and remember that if Daesh is an indecency, they themselves are a treasured part of our lives.
Most of us are Democrats or Republicans. We support, enthusiastically or not, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. There will be time enough for politics, five more months of open political bloodsport before we return to political wars of attrition. But for now, it might be better to think of each other as human beings: brothers, sisters, parents and children, all bound together in a huge, richly textured society that can also be fragile if we choose to tear it apart.
Politics is the game for tomorrow. Start the recriminations, air the hatreds and use the dead to push an agenda tomorrow. Today it is better to show some love, comfort the hurt and do some good. If we’re lucky—if we are good—that other tomorrow might never come.