“We have to stop the tremendous flow of Syrian refugees into the United States—we don’t know who they are, they have no documentation, and we don’t know what they’re planning,” Trump said, though as PolitiFact points out his claim the U.S. does not vet incoming refugees is “wrong.” The U.S. is far behind its modest goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees, though other Syrians have immigrated through other means.
“I will suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism,” Trump said. He later clarified that he was referring to “nations tied to Islamic terror,” though that would still include many European nations that have faced their own homegrown Islamist attacks. He said that Americans deserved to know of immigrants, “Why are they here?” and said of radical Islamists, “They’re trying to take over our children.”
But as Trump acknowledged, Omar Mateen, the shooter in Orlando, was an American citizen, born in New York City to Afghan parents. (He initially seemed to say that Mateen was an Afghan himself, though he quickly corrected himself, making it seem more like a teleprompter miscue than intentional misleading.) When Mateen was born, the United States was funneling support to radical Islamists in Afghanistan fighting an invasion by the Soviet Union.
“The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here,” Trump said.
Yet his ban would seem to conspicuously fail to handle people like Mateen, native-born Americans who are radicalized within the United States. Even if banning Muslim immigration three decades ago would have prevented the spread of terror, a tenuous argument, it would do nothing to stem “self-radicalized” or “lone-wolf” terrorists.
Obama, in remarks earlier Monday, acknowledged the threat from Americans who are radicalized over the Internet. “As far as we can tell right now, this is certainly an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been so concerned about for a very long time,” he said of Mateen. Obama also put heavy blame on easy access to firearms.
Trump, meanwhile, briefly noted the problem of homegrown radicals, but quickly waved it away: “Yes, there are many radicalized people already inside our country as a result of the poor policies of the past. But the whole point is that it will be much, much easier to deal with our current problem if we don’t keep on bringing in people who add to the problem.”
The levers of American policy are effectively frozen. The president and the Congress cannot reach consensus on new gun policies, changes to immigration law, or even congressional authorization for U.S. action against ISIS, even as strikes have been occurring for months. With action out of the picture, leaders are increasingly obsessed with words. For example, there is Obama’s steadfast, controversial, but fully intentional aversion to the phrase “radical Islam,” and its mirror image, Trump’s denunciation of “political correctness.” During his speech Monday, Trump warned, “We cannot afford to talk around issues anymore. We have to address these issues.” This was not a speech that did so.