In the past few weeks, we’ve allowed ourselves to indulge in the quips and quibbles of the presidential race, obsessing over such things as whether Hillary Clinton lied about her health or whether Donald Trump told the truth about his role in the birther movement.
The weekend bombings in New York and New Jersey and a stabbing incident in Minnesota reminded us of what’s really at stake in this year’s presidential election.
We all know by now that the greatest threat to our national security isn’t someone trained by a foreign terrorist network flying a plane into a skyscraper in a major U.S. city. Orlando, Fla., and San Bernardino, Calif., have shown us that the newest wave of terrorists are home-grown and often radicalized over the internet. There are people living among us who want to bring our country down, and one of the most important qualities we need in a commander in chief is someone who’s smart enough to figure out how to keep that from happening.
This week, Clinton and Trump have provided us with two different road maps for fighting terrorism. Neither candidate said anything we haven’t heard before, but it’s been interesting to watch them talk about their strategies under pressure. It’s clear that both of them need to rethink their approach.
Trump’s response has been nearly juvenile, revealing once again his chilling dearth of experience in foreign and domestic affairs. Clinton, on the other hand, has come off sounding like a lifelong bureaucrat who spouts policy rather than convincing Americans they will be safer under her watch. Each technique is designed to appeal to a certain constituency. And neither is sufficient to pull anyone over from the opposing side.
Even with her broad experience, a recent CNN poll shows Clinton lagging Trump on the issue: 51 percent of registered voters trust Trump to better handle terrorism, compared with 45 percent who trust Clinton.
It is easy to understand why Trump came out ahead. He lays out the problems in a simplistic way and offers solutions that a 5-year-old could understand. Void of political jargon, and often without real substance, he promises to fight terrorism by giving control to the people, rather than relying on others to come to our rescue. He plays to our patriotism, prodding us to release our fear in angry bursts, targeting our neighbors who likely are no more terrorists than we are.
Many Americans find his ideas repulsive. But to folks who want to protect our country by any means necessary, Trump’s plain talk is just what they want to hear.
Many Americans find his ideas repulsive. But to the folks who want to protect our country by any means necessary, even treading on the civil rights of other Americans, Trump’s plain talk is just what they want to hear.
Trump would have us believe that our immigration system is largely responsible for the terrorism. The more limits we place on who can enter our country, he says, the more likely we are to keep terrorists from setting off bombs on U.S. soil.
Since we can’t expect anyone to tell us he wants to enter the country in order to kill Americans, we would have to rely on Trump’s “extreme vetting” to weed those people out. That would mean probing the minds of everyone who tries to come to America from what he calls “terrorist nations.”
Trump has mentioned requiring some sort of “ideological test.” I wonder if that’s anything like the old literacy tests Southern states used to require African-Americans to take as a means of denying them the right to vote?
Trump also paints our police officers as wimps, saying New York police know who the terrorists are but are afraid to do anything because they don’t want to be accused of racial profiling.
“You know in Israel, they profile,” Trump said in an interview Monday on Fox News. “They’ve done an unbelievable job — as good as you can do.… They see somebody that’s suspicious. They will profile. They will take that person in.”
Clinton’s ideas for fighting terrorism are more esoteric. And they frequently sound like political garble.
Clinton’s ideas are more esoteric. And they frequently sound like political garble. She tries to appeal to our strength by reminding us that we aren’t a nation of cowards.
That’s not a bad thing. But she never really explains how we’re going to stop lone-wolf terrorists from shooting up a nightclub or walking up to shoppers in a suburban Minnesota mall.
On her website, she lays out three areas that she would focus on as president.
First, she would take out the Islamic State’s stronghold in Iraq and Syria, in part, by resolving civil and sectarian wars. So far, our track record hasn’t been too good in that area.
Next, she would work with our allies to dismantle global terrorism. Yet even while she was secretary of state, that didn’t happen.
Third, she would harden our defenses at home. She’s on to something here by promising to support our first responders, law enforcement and intelligence officers with the right tools, resources, intelligence and training to prevent attacks. But some folks would like to hear more about what those tools would look like.
Trump’s supporters are very clear about where he stands, though he likely won’t be able to do any of things he has promised. Those of us who like Clinton might not understand exactly what she’s saying, but we trust that she knows what she’s talking about.
Contact Ms. Glanton at firstname.lastname@example.org.