Many people have noticed how President Trump’s response to the Islamic terror attack in New York City is different from his response to the mass shooting in Las Vegas — namely, when it comes to “politicization.”
Of course, it is true that the responses have been different. When he was asked about possible gun-control legislation in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, President Trump said, “That’s not for now.” This message was consistent: When Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was later asked about it, she reiterated that the White House did not believe it was the time to have political conversations, explaining that “there’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country.”
The terrorist came into our country through what is called the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program,” a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017
We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter). @foxandfriends— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017
So, what’s the difference? The most common view has been that President Trump chose to politicize this tragedy, but chose not to politicize the Las Vegas one — but the thing is, that’s not exactly true.
In reality, both of President Trump’s responses were the product of a political calculation. To be clear, I’m not saying that the White House did not feel genuine pain and sorrow over both of these tragedies; I’m certain that they did; I’m talking about the decisions behind the responses themselves.
The terrorist in New York City was an immigrant who came to the United States from Uzbekistan through the Diversity Visa Lottery program, the kind of program that President Trump has criticized in favor of a merit-based system. In the aftermath, Trump saw it as a chance to remind people of this fact — which was a political decision.
When President Trump heard the details of the Las Vegas shooting, however, he decided that there was nothing about the events that could be used to further his agenda, so he decided to say that they shouldn’t be politicized — which was also a political decision.
Think about it: Other than details such as the number of casualties, motive, and choice of weapon, these tragedies were quite similar. They both had victims, they both left behind grieving families, they both — as Sanders stated after the Las Vegas shooting — represented times when we must “unite as a country” to grieve. If you’re deciding go with “Let’s not politicize this!” for one tragedy, but then calling for policy changes after a similar but politically different tragedy, then it’s clear that your reasons for “not politicizing” the other one were, well, political. You were politicizing, and your “Let’s not politicize this!” speech does not change that fact.
All politicians do this — it’s how their game works.
Now, to be fair, I’m certainly not singling out President Trump on this one. All politicians do this — it’s how their game works. The most relevant example is probably Senator Chuck Schumer himself, who hit President Trump for “politicizing” the New York City tragedy even though he had used the Las Vegas massacre to call for gun control.
I’m also not making a judgment about what’s right or wrong in terms of calling for policy changes after tragedies, because I think that that’s a complicated question. What I am saying, however, is this: The way we currently talk about “politicization” and how we define what it does and does not mean to “politicize” is wrong. The truth is, if you’re picking which tragedies to “not politicize” based on politics, then your calls to “not politicize” are also inherently a form of politicization — and it’s time for more people to recognize that fact.
— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.