BARACK Obama seems to age visibly after every mass shooting. He has had to deal with 18 of them. Eighteen attempts to find a new way of drafting the platitudes of condolence to the bereaved. Eighteen promises that the perpetrators will be punished (if they are still alive). Eighteen appeals to Americans to set aside their love of guns. The mentally unstable Orlando killer was able, quite legally, to buy hand guns and a semi- automatic rifle only a week before he ended 50 lives in the Pulse club.
This was the worst terrorist atrocity in the US since 9/11. But it was a home-grown massacre by a deranged security guard, Omar Mateen, an American citizen of Afghani descent, with a poisonous hatred of gay people and a fanatical attachment to Islamic State. At any rate, he dedicated his work to Islamic State (IS), which was only too willing to take credit.
Donald Trump was also not shy about taking credit. Within hours of the Orlando massacre he tweeted self-congratulatory messages claiming it vindicated his call to ban Muslims from America. Yet this would hardly have prevented the massacre, since Mateen was already there, having been, as Bruce Springsteen used to say, born in the USA. Unless the Donald is intent on repatriating anyone with immigrant Muslim forebears, his ban would be useless.
There was a terrifying inevitability about the Orlando massacre, and the boost it appears to have given the Republican presidential nominee presumptive. IS has been eager to target gays, whom it regards as an abomination against god, and has been looking to inspire a terrorist spectacular in America, to match the efforts of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda outfit, back in 2001. Clearly, 50 dead hardly compares with the carnage at the World Trade Centre. But the impact could be almost as great.
In 2001, there was no one around like Mr Trump to take advantage of it. With his belligerent, racial populism, Mr Trump makes George W Bush look like Mahatma Ghandi. Not only would he “carpet bomb” Syria (and now probably Afghanistan) he would launch a racial war in America by banning Muslim immigrants and curbing the civil freedoms of those already there.
Mr Trump and Islamic State need each other. IS want to provoke a crackdown on Muslims in America, and abroad, to justify its claims that it is engaged in a religious war with the Great Satan. Donald Trump needs an atrocity to build support for his “strong man” pitch. Orlando is an opportunity for him – and followers like the gay British Islamophobe, Milo Yiannopoulos – to condemn the “liberal elite” for failing to protect American citizens from “Radical Islam”.
Within hours of the massacre Mr Trump was calling on MrObama to resign and Hillary Clinton to step down because they had not specifically condemned “Islamic terrorism”. Not for him the normal decencies – respect for the dead and their relatives, not rushing to judgment, not using human tragedy for political gain, trying to ease community tensions. This is war, says Mr Trump, and war needs “toughness and vigilance” to fight it– and he’s itching to have a go.
This latest atrocity could win the presidential election for Mr Trump. He has summoned all the demons in the American psyche and focused them on a religious minority within and a terrorist threat from without. We are seeing all the latent anger, fear and frustration that led to the folly of the Iraq war come bubbling up again in this wretched election campaign.
Even socialist Bernie Sanders has insisted, following Orlando, that IS “must be destroyed” despite the murderer being an American. We’re told we must “cut off its head” by bombing Syria – though that is unlikely to kill the beast. Only troops on the ground can do that, and that isn’t going to happen – or is it? We are entering uncharted waters now in American politics which could have dire consequences for the world.
A more sensible response would, of course, be gun control. Mr Obama told a debate with the National Rifle Association only a week before Orlando that, while he could stop suspected terrorists getting on a plane, he couldn’t stop them buying guns.
However, America’s love affair with weapons hasn’t been diminished by this latest atrocity, indeed it has intensified it. Gun advocates say, Orlando only proves that Americans are not safe in our public spaces and need protection. And so the cycle of violence turns again, with MrTrump wielding the crank.