by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of American Reporter Correspondents
June 16, 2016
A BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF OUR NATION
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- "This election is not, however, about the same old fights between Democrats and Republicans," presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said on the night of June 7, the night she became the first woman chosen by a majority of the voters of a major political party to be its presidential candidate.
"This election is different," Clinton continued. "It really is about who we are as a nation. It's about millions of Americans coming together to say: We are better than this. We won't let this happen in America."
Rarely has the choice been so stark. We have one political party that believes in equality, freedom, and dignity for every American. And we have another political party that traffics in racism, sexism, homophobia, paranoia, and fear of the "other" to win elections.
We have one political party that still honors the rule of law and the notion of the common good. And we have another party that sneers at the idea of unity, community, and honoring the diversity that makes up our America.
This is the political backdrop upon which the June 12 massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., has played out.
We've seen the flames of intolerance that have been whipped up by the haters and queer-baiters, hiding behind their bibles as violence is committed against the LGBTQ community.
We've seen the violent and repressive impulses of Donald Trump, and the Republican Party who has made him their presumptive nominee. While the GOP's appeals to bigotry are nothing new, the difference is that the basest instincts of the GOP have moved out from the shadows and now are proudly paraded for all to see.
There are very few Democrats attacking same-sex marriage, or passing laws to discriminate against gays, or freaking out over which bathroom a transexual might use. That's because most Democrats recognize the common humanity of all Americans, while nearly all Republicans happily hate LGBT people for political gain.
That's why the reactions by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the days after the Orlando massacre are telling.
Trump chose to use the shooting as an excuse to spew more hatred at immigrants and Muslims and to accuse Clinton and President Obama of being soft on terrorism and wanting to abolish the Second Amendment.
Clinton chose to make an appeal for national unity while outlining a measured and level-headed response to fighting terrorism.
Trump renewed his calls to ban Muslims from entering the United States, and to suspend all immigration from countries deemed hostile to the United States.
Clinton reminded everyone that Trump's plan "goes against everything we stand for as a country founded on religious freedom," and that she "will not demonize and declare war on an entire religion."
And then President Obama backed her up with these words:
"This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion. We don't have religious tests here. Our founders, our Constitution, our Bill of RIghts, are clear about that.
"And if we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect - the pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties - the very things that make this country great; the very things that make us exceptional.
"And then the terrorists would have won.
"And we cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen."
As for the details that have been coming out about the killer in Orlando, Omar Mateen, they disprove the whole "radical Islamic terrorist" theme that certain right-wingers have been pushing all week.
Mateen was a first-generation Afghan-American with a history of mental instability who beat up his wife.
He worked as security guard and legally obtained his weapons.
His co-workers say he was a loudmouth and a blowhard with a temper.
He grew up in a strict religious home, but showed few signs of religious fanaticism and had no apparent connections to extremist groups. He may or may not have been a closeted gay, but the one thing he seemed not to be was a radical Islamic terrorist.
It is now clear that what happened in Orlando was a hate crime, pure and simple, and the people Mateen killed were inside a gay nightclub, Pulse, that he reportedly frequented in the past.
So will Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican Party admit that this massacre was an act of violence that deliberately targeted gays and lesbians, or will they continue to flog the "scary Muslim terrorist" theme?
But that's the least of the questions that should be directed at Trump and the GOP in the wake of the Orlando massacre.
The big question is this. Is the Republican Party willing to take full ownership of Donald Trump and all his "bizarre rants and outright lies," as Hillary Clinton called his remarks this week, or is it going to stop being afraid of this man and try to return to becoming a sensible political party?
And, if the Republican Party won't do anything about Trump, will the American people reject this man and everything he stands for?
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org