The attack in Egypt’s North Sinai on Friday was gut-wrenching. As Reuters reported, gunmen “in military-style uniforms and masks” appeared in a mosque’s doorway and at windows, opened fire on worshipers, and killed more than 300 people, including dozens of children. It was “the worst bloodshed of its kind in Egypt’s modern history.”
Initially, Donald Trump responded to the events by tweeting, “Horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshipers in Egypt. The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!”
That wouldn’t have been especially notable, were it not for the second half of the American president’s message.
“Will be calling the President of Egypt in a short while to discuss the tragic terrorist attack, with so much loss of life. We have to get TOUGHER AND SMARTER than ever before, and we will. Need the WALL, need the BAN! God bless the people of Egypt.”
This led Rep. Filemon Vela Jr. (D-Texas), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, to call Trump “an idiot,” and the Democratic congressman wasn’t the only one with concerns.
First, it was just hours after the attack that the president thought it’d be a good idea to use the bloodshed to tout his political agenda. Second, his political agenda has no meaningful connection to what transpired: Egypt’s North Sinai is nowhere near Mexico, so Trump’s beloved wall idea is irrelevant, and while the White House’s proposed Muslim ban has gone through several iterations, none of them included Egypt among the targeted countries.
For that matter, the idea that Trump wants to use the slaughter of hundreds of Muslims as a rationale to ban Muslims seems rather perverse.
But let’s also not forget that in the wake of a crisis, this president’s instincts are too often at their worst.
Earlier this month, for example, after a man murdered eight people in New York City with a rental truck, Trump blamed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). As regular readers know, it was part of an ugly pattern.
His response to last year’s attack in Orlando – at the time, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history – was pathetic. His reaction to the attack in Nice, France, was every bit as foolish. The Republican president’s response to recent terrorism in London quickly became an international embarrassment – twice. Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville has left a stain on his presidency that will not wash off with time.
The common denominator, of course, is that Donald J. Trump responds to crises by asking all the wrong questions. Instead of focusing on what matters, the president looks for ways to gain political advantage in the wake of bloodshed, hoping to exploit attacks in ways that help him and his agenda, rather than help bring people together.
Incidents like these offer leadership tests, which Trump continues to fail spectacularly.