A hail of gunfire in Orlando may have transformed the 2016 presidential campaign into a full-fledged culture war.
What some see as a hate crime or an act of terrorism, others see as retribution for sin. However you look at it, what unfolded in Orlando turned out to be the deadliest mass shooting in American history. While some are renewing calls for sensible gun control and bans on assault rifles, others are calling for more vigilance against "radical Islamic terrorism."
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump took credit for predicting more violence and said President Obama should step down for refusing to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton deplored more gun violence and told the LBGT community she stood with them.
Before the gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others in a well known gay bar in Orlando early Sunday morning, The Wall Street Journal published a piece about what led so many people to support Trump. The bottom line: “people want their country back.”
It was hard to miss the irony that the Orlando shooter, according to his father, was galvanized to buy weapons and undertake his serial killing after watching in apparent disgust two men kiss in public.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick tweeted after the shooting that “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Florida Governor Rick Scott had trouble acknowledging the victims were homosexuals. Perhaps sensing an opportunity to regain momentum after a rough patch in his campaign, Trump scheduled a major speech Monday devoted to terrorism.
The culture war seething through this year’s election runs deeper than disagreements over gay rights. The WSJ piece about “Trumpkins” suggested the election may turn on entrepreneurship versus entitlement, a not-so-coy allusion to “workers” and “slackers.”
Trump has appealed to displaced and often alienated white workers who lost jobs in traditional industries. Trump gets nods at his political rallies when he blames bad international trade deals, government red tape and ill-conceived efforts to combat climate change. He wraps up his platform in the phrase, “Make American Great Again.”
Meanwhile, major news outlets from USA Today to The New York Times have lacerated Trump’s business reputation, claiming he stiffs contractors, workers and even his own lawyers, and profits in his own failures.
Clinton is airing an attack ad calling Trump University a massive fraud. Senator Elizabeth Warren has delivered scathing criticism of Trump, calling him a greedy money-grubber and race-baiter. Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has raised questions about Trump’s moral character. House Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump’s rant against the judge hearing his Trump University case a “textbook case of racism.”
What already was a street brawl election campaign may have turned yet another corner into an even darker alley.
Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.