We must do better

Never let a crisis go to waste.

This phrase has been attributed to several people throughout history, most recently to Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Attribution aside, this sentiment has been applied repeatedly by those in power across the world since the beginning of time. Based on the political response to the Orlando tragedy, this philosophy is still a favorite of politicians at all levels. 

In the hours after the incident, families and friends of victims repeatedly dialed the cell phone numbers of the missing, waiting in desperate agony to find out whether their loved ones had perished. Meanwhile, many of our politicians were busy ensuring they didn’t waste this crisis as they began spouting politically expedient, overly simplistic, worn-out solutions to this problem, which really aren’t solutions at all.

Grouped together, the proposals provided by the presidential candidates for the Democrat and Republican Parties essentially boil down to a binary choice:

Ban one of these:

A. Guns

B. Muslims

Even those who haven’t paid close attention to the 2016 presidential race could predict the typical, regurgitated responses of both presidential candidates. If these people, who both aspire to lead our country through unimaginable challenges, honestly believe that simply outlawing something should take care of it, we’re in truly dire straits. 

Perhaps it’s too much to ask in 2016, where we are positioned less than five months from a presidential election, that instead of using this horrific event to advance their own predictable agendas, politicians respond with constructive ideas to solve this grotesque epidemic of homegrown terrorism, of hate and prejudice that manifest into senseless murder.

Frankly, I believe these candidates are insulting the intelligence of the American people. The gun control argument is inane. It’s illogical. Bad people will always find tools to carry out evil. The idea that prohibiting people who subscribe to a particular religion from entering this country will in any way be helpful is equally absurd and ignorant. Have we learned nothing from history? Demonizing an entire religious group (or gender group, or race group, or age group, or sexual orientation group, and on) is un-American. Islamic extremism must be combatted, but we absolutely must avoid painting all Muslims with a broad brush.

As the discussion has evolved in the days since, I have been dismayed by proposals of both elected officials and private citizens that call for the relinquishment of freedoms in exchange for (perceived) safety. It is inevitable, each time we feel vulnerable, particularly after an attack like this, that we temporarily realign our priorities, placing safety above freedom. We can’t keep doing this. We have to recognize that our national security strategy is developed and implemented by humans, who are fallible. This fallibility is inherent. Thus, our system will not be made perfect by relinquishing our civil liberties. At times like these, it’s important to remember that we are fortunate to live in a nation that protects our right to believe and say whatever we want. Billions of people across the world don’t have this right. I may vehemently disagree with those who want to ban Muslims, or guns, or desire a protectionist government, but I will staunchly defend your right to hold and freely express that belief. The world we live in demands that we remain vigilant in protecting our country from those who wish to do us harm, but we must resist handing over the freedoms that so many Americans have fought to protect throughout our country’s history because we are afraid.

In this culture of smart phone addicted, attention deficit afflicted, instant gratification expectant people, maybe we’re only getting what we demand: simple sound bites that make us feel good. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we need to acknowledge that preventing an incident like this one from happening again will take a lot more thought, cohesiveness, and determination. It will come in the form of a complex, multi-pronged approach that requires innovative thinking, monetary and human resources, and political capital. Most importantly, it will take participation from regular folks who don’t have titles, who aren’t acting in official capacities, folks like you and me, to lead by example. To respect one another despite our differences, to practice tolerance, to be unwilling to accept empty words packaged as solutions from our country’s leaders, to defend the freedom that makes our country the greatest in the world. We have to be part of the solution. This is how I aspire to honor the lives of those tragically cut short in Orlando on Sunday morning.