Eight people are dead with 11 more seriously injured following yet another terrorist attack in New York City. The 29-year-old named by police as the attacker was a bearded native of Uzbekistan. He used a rented pickup truck to plow down a lower Manhattan bike path while, according to witnesses, shouting “Allahu Akbar!” Police later found a note inside the truck in which the alleged terrorist, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State. These clues paint a clear picture.
This attack seems tailor-made to confirm preconceptions shared by Donald Trump and a substantial portion of his voting base about radicalized Islamic terrorists hiding in plain sight and about the indulgent immigration laws that allow them to come here. Saipov was the beneficiary of a 20-year-old immigration lottery designed to increase the number of immigrants from nations without much representation in the United States. This bipartisan program, dubbed the “Diversity Lottery,” has become the central focus of the immigration-skeptical right, even more so than the radical Islamist theology that inspires these types of terrorist attacks.
On Wednesday, the president echoed the right’s antipathy toward this program. “The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty,” Donald Trump wrote. “I want merit based.” There’s nothing wrong with that sentiment; it’s one with which most Americans would probably agree. Furthermore, it would be irrational to stand in defiant opposition to examining pervasive American immigration laws in the wake of this atrocity. Anti-immigration Republicans are unlikely to find a panacea for Islamist terrorist violence in amending American immigration programs, just as the “common-sense gun laws” Democrats invoke after mass shooting events are often unlikely to prevent the disasters they claim they are addressing. That fact has not imposed any humility on tactless, partisan Democrats, who are today feigning offense over the “politicization” of the New York City attack.
Democrats and their allies in media were incensed by the right’s treatment of the Senate majority leader. “Extreme right gins up a culprit for N.Y. terror attack: Chuck Schumer,” read the primal scream disguised as a headline in the Washington Post. “Extreme right” was soon dropped in favor of “Trump and allies.” Schumer seemed prepared to capitalize on finding himself in Trump’s sights. “I guess it’s not too soon to politicize a tragedy,” he remarked scornfully. Schumer was joined by prominent Democrats like Representative Adam Schiff and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who issued facile protests against the crass polarization of a tragedy. The hypocrisy here is staggering.
If these eight people were the victims of gun violence and not terroristic vehicular homicide, “politicizing” this event would be a virtuous activity. That is, after all, how President Barack Obama felt. Following a 2015 mass shooting at a community college in Oregon, Obama declared episodes of gun violence to be “something we should politicize.” He dubbed these attacks the result of “a political choice that we make” and vowed to make a political issue of every act of mass gun violence, all to the cheers of those who are allegedly so repulsed by the politicization of violence today. This was all the more calculated because, like all rational lawmakers, the president was aware that no new law debated in Congress would have prevented any of the mass shootings he was supposedly addressing. For Obama, that irresponsible intensification of passions served a parochial political purpose.
The editorial board of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune captured Obama’s dissociative logic perfectly 36 hours after a terrible mass shooting in Las Vegas in October. “[W]ho is politicizing such tragedies more than those who would limit public reaction to symbolic gestures while moving ahead with further concessions to the powerful gun lobby?” The truly blinkered are those who object to the Star-Tribune’s legislative preferences, even if they are only cosmetic. Anyone else is acting in bad faith. And these same voices have the gall to lecture immigration skeptics?
Almost one year ago, Michael Rubin warned in COMMENTARY that the “Diversity Lottery” might soon come under fire owing to an atrocity conducted by a radicalized beneficiary of the program who managed to get through the screening process. It’s perfectly sensible to spend the aftermath of acts of barbarism asking if we could have done more to prevent them. Unfortunately, more often than not, the answer is unsatisfying.
The truly gratuitous politicization of bloodshed is a tragedy all its own, but it’s one made that much worse by the fact that those who engage in this macabre sport don’t even seem to know they’re doing it.