Politics & Policy

What Needed to Be Said after New York

Police investigators at the truck used in the terror attack in Manhattan, October 31, 2017. (Reuters photo: Andrew Kelly)
Both parties wrongly seek to exploit tragedies for political ends. But a discussion about what is not being done to fight terror is necessary.

Those who called President Trump a hypocrite for blaming Tuesday’s Manhattan terror attack on Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer weren’t wrong. Trump was doing the same thing that he had condemned only a few weeks earlier, when he chided liberals for using the Las Vegas shooting as an excuse to resurrect a stale debate about gun control before the blood was even cleaned off the streets.

The problem here is that while most people instinctually understand that political grandstanding in the wake of a tragedy is appalling no matter which side does it, both sides persist in doing it. The Left never hesitates to use each and every instance of mass gun violence to talk up gun-control laws. Republicans invariably reply that the aftermath of such events should be taken up with grieving for those killed and their families. Yet after instances of Islamic terror, the parties switch sides in the debate.

Trump’s cheap shot at Schumer was particularly crass as well as inept. Schumer helped to create the Diversity Visa Lottery, which the attacker used to enter the United States — but the bill had bipartisan support and was signed by President George H. W. Bush. Moreover, Schumer supported the lottery’s abolition in 2013 as part of a comprehensive immigration bill that was stopped by House Republicans.

But the real offense was Trump’s refusal to let the investigation unfold before assigning blame. Trump simply doesn’t understand that the best thing he can do at such moments is to play the role of a president seeking to unite the country, not that of a partisan Twitter attack dog.

Democrats were just as hypocritical, though. New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio have often been among the first to politicize shooting incidents, but this time they didn’t hesitate to spout pious admonitions against using the incident for political use. Cuomo expressed a desire for “normalcy” so as to avoid giving supporters of terrorism the satisfaction of having disrupted the country’s usual routines.

Yet even as we disdain the instinct to make political hay out of the suffering of others, it is worth pondering whether there are any policies that deserve to be discussed rather than tabled after tragedies. Are there some things that can or must be said without crossing the line into partisanship or exploitation? The answer is yes, but any comments should be strictly limited to those that would actually prevent a recurrence of tragedy.

Liberals assert that gun-control laws fall into that category. But almost none of the Democrats’ ideas would actually do a thing to prevent those mass shootings, whether it was the massacre of children at Sandy Hook or the recent carnage in Las Vegas. The weapons used in these incidents are almost always obtained legally and with every obstacle — such as background checks — passed by the shooters or the people who owned the guns.

There are exceptions to this, such as the idea of banning the “bump stock” device used in Las Vegas, which makes a semiautomatic rifle fire almost as rapidly as a machine gun. But this minor adjustment in existing regulations doesn’t excite the Democrats or strike them as a significant enough response to their desire for gun control.

The only proposal that would make a difference would be an effort to repeal or reinterpret the Second Amendment so as to abolish the right to bear arms. A debate over that idea would be far more honest, but since they know most Americans won’t tolerate the notion, Democrats continue to disingenuously assert support for the amendment instead.

There are some reactions to terror that fall under the same disingenuous rubric as background checks. The notion of banning all Muslims from entering the country voiced by Trump was not only prejudiced but also counterproductive.

The “extreme vetting” that Trump has proposed, though it is often laughed off by Democrats as hyperbole, would be useful. Assessing potential immigrants and refugees not on the basis of their religion but on their support for radical-Islamist groups that seek to replace democracies with theocratic and totalitarian regimes is necessary. Those doing the vetting should move into the 21st century and spend more time analyzing social-media accounts and other public records. An effort to institutionalize such practices is an appropriate response to terror. But since the New York killer was reportedly radicalized after coming to this country, that tougher approach to immigration is irrelevant to this specific case.

The Manhattan incident ought to provoke a debate about one policy change that could have a real impact on homegrown terrorism.

Yet the Manhattan incident ought to provoke a debate about one policy change that could have a real impact on homegrown terrorism. During the term of de Blasio’s predecessor, the NYPD pursued a strategy of surveilling mosques and other venues that were gathering places for radicals and those they sought to influence. But the American Civil Liberties Union and politicians like de Blasio damned the program as “spying” whose goal was to foster discrimination against Muslims and to chill free speech. Despite the cogent protests of former police commissioner Ray Kelly, the NYPD abandoned the program. While the police have continued to do some surveillance, for the most part the effort to combat homegrown terror has been scaled back, making it easier for radicalized immigrants such as the New York killer to evade detection until they strike. It should be resumed.

What the country needs after New York are not Trump tweets aimed at Schumer but a discussion of policies that will actually address terror. To the extent that politicians such as Cuomo and de Blasio pander to the Left and continue to oppose such measures, they are failing to solve a deadly problem — and completing a cycle of hypocrisy in which they are just as guilty as Trump.

READ MORE:

EDITORIAL | Confronting the Terror Threat

New York Terror Attack and Extreme Vetting

Politicizing Terrorism

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