It’s a coincidence that the President should give his standup Oval Office terrorism talk on the eve of Pearl Harbor Day, Dec.7, the day that lives in infamy.
Unless you’re Asian American, of course, because Dec. 7 simply started the clock that would bring us to Infamy Day’s domestic companion moment, February 19, 1942.
It took just over two months from the act that spurred a declaration of war for President Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 9066–the document that legitimized the hysteria of the time and authorized the incarceration of tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry.
What happened at Pearl Harbor (more than 2,400 Americans dead, 8 battleships damaged) is nothing like what happened at the San Bernardino office Christmas party (14 civilians dead, 21 injured).
Japan’s surprise attack mission is far different from two individuals acting alone–and at this point, that’s all we have; there’s no hard evidence linking the Farooks with organized international terror groups. And even if there were, Japan is a full-fledged country. ISIL/ISIS/DAESH is exactly what President Obama called them the other night. “They are thugs and killers,” the president said. “Part of a cult of death.”
But the terror and the hysteria is real.
And that’s what the president was attempting to address.
Now is not the time for a “blow them up to kingdom come/get the bastards” attitude.
Not that the president’s speech didn’t have its hawk talk.
“The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it,” said the president. “We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won’t depend on tough talk or abandoning our values or giving into fear. That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for. Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart. Resilient and relentless. And by drawing upon every aspect of American power.”
It was far from a dovish speech. We’re not going to have new troops. Didn’t work for Bush, not going to work now. But the president did assure that the U.S. will continue to bomb away at Iraq and Syria with airstrikes–4,500 of them in Iraq last year. And the U.S. military will continue to work with allies like Turkey.
Remember San Bernardino wasn’t Pearl Harbor. And we’re not dealing with a nation. We’re dealing with “thugs” who want to bait us into a ground war that fuels the insurgency and helps recruit more terrorists.
This isn’t a conventional war situation. But it is a conventional political year.
So, of course, nothing the president could say would be enough. Not when all the GOP candidates want to rip off their shirts, flex their muscles, and talk trash.
But all that whips up an irrational hysteria, of the type that Asian Americans saw two months after Pearl Harbor.
And that’s why the president’s speech was more of a reminder of our nation’s values. The stuff that makes America great. The stuff that brought people from both sides of the aisle in 1776 to declare independence from the King. We can summon all that up today, but it takes real courage to do the right thing.
“Just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans, of every faith to reject discrimination,” said the president. “It is our responsibility to reject tests on who we admit into this country. It is our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.”
And yet most pundits after the speech were critical of the president for a lack of new military action or tough guy strategy.
They couldn’t see that acting like America, standing united and not cowering in fear, can be a smart strategy that works.
“Let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional,” the president said. “Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear.”
Less than 24 hours after the speech, we saw why this was far wiser than anyone in the mainstream media would care to say.
Who else but Donald Trump to be the first to fan the flames of Islamophobia by calling for the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
In an e-mail statement to media, Trump said: “It is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension…Where this hatred comes from and why, we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”
Of course, we can see that Trump’s views come from a fundamental misreading of Islam. With Muslims, Trump will take the leap. You didn’t see him invoke Robert Dear Jr., the alleged Colorado Planned Parenthood shooter to stereotype and vilify all Bible-thumping whites, now did you?
But for Trump, and many Americans, there’s no hesitancy in believing this to be true: seen one Jihadist Muslim, and you’ve seen them all.
And with every incident, we get closer to internment camp fever.
You want to see it in action?
Last Friday, Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University, urged his students and faculty to gun up–to get those Muslims before they get us.
“Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,” Falwell said at a Friday convocation before 10,000 people at the Christian college.
“I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” Falwell added, as he boasted of that bulge in his back pocket as his legal .25 caliber handgun.
See the video for yourself.
It’s the cheering in the end that bothers me. That’s what Obama’s speech was trying to calm, but it may be too late. Hysteria is well underway, fueling the terrorism we need to be worried about–the one that tears at our democracy.