The murder of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub has brought together millions of Americans to express their profound sympathy for the victims and their friends and families. There may be more yet to be learned, but it appears that the perpetrator of this heinous act was motivated by a combination of jihadist ideology and anti-gay hatred, a toxic mixture that led to the most devastating mass shooting in American history. We need to find better answers for how to prevent these kinds of attacks in the future. But while we do so, we need to stand together, not give in to the same kind of hatred and divisiveness that leads to incidents like this in the first place.
Not surprisingly, the public figure who has tried hardest to fan the flames of fear and hatred in the wake of the Orlando killings is Donald Trump. He has reiterated his call for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the United States, apparently broadening it to include anyone from "countries where terrorism is going on." He claims that Muslim communities in the United States "knew what was going on" and failed to notify authorities, and has even made the outrageous and cowardly insinuation that President Obama may have somehow contributed to or acquiesced in the attacks, arguing that either the president is "not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind." Trump further suggested that "there is something going on" with the president, presumably some sort of sympathy with terrorists. Trump's statement is beneath contempt, but that won't keep him from repeating variations on that theme in the months to come.
A number of actions have been suggested that might prevent future attacks like the one in Orlando: banning assault weapons, so no one can ever again kill so many people in so short a span; preventing individuals on the terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms; providing more comprehensive mental health services that might keep disturbed individuals from turning to violence; and keeping a closer eye on potential terrorists in order to stop them before they take action. Underlying all of this must be an unshakeable commitment to equal rights for all, regardless of race, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation. None of these actions alone can guarantee that another terrorist act or hate crime won't occur, but they can make them less deadly and less frequent. A line will have to be drawn between necessary vigilance and excessive police and intelligence surveillance -- that is a national conversation we need to have, and soon. None of these potential answers is fully satisfying, but some combination of them can save lives while we search for a more comprehensive solution.
We know what won't work: targeting entire communities based on the actions of specific individuals, spreading fear, hatred, and suspicion in the process. Donald Trump's hateful, racist rhetoric must be opposed. But even more importantly, people of good will need to come together to find a way to keep what happened in Orlando, and Charleston, and San Bernardino, and Newtown, and in other towns and cities all over the world from happening again, and again. We cannot allow mass murder to become business as usual.