There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, about former British prime minister Harold Macmillan. As the story goes, shortly after his election he was asked by a journalist what could blow his agenda off the rails. As legend has it Macmillan replied, “Events, dear boy. Events.”
So it is with the 2016 presidential election in the United States.
Events shape politics and Donald Trump’s bid for the White House got a boost yesterday from the events in Brussels.
Early yesterday morning, terrorists detonated bombs at the American Airlines counter at the Brussels airport and at a metro stop in the heart of the city. Thirty four are confirmed dead and at least 230 are injured.
In December of last year, Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” In another statement, Trump singled out Brussels and its thousands of unassimilated Muslim immigrants, calling the city a “hellhole.”
Democrats and Republicans piled on. Jeb Bush, at the time still in the race, called Donald Trump “unhinged.”
Yesterday, in the eyes of many voters, Trump went from unhinged to prophet.
Separate but related events in this hemisphere further strengthened Trump. As timing would have it, President Obama was in Cuba when the terrorist attack in Brussels occurred. Obama gave a statement saying that the United States stands in solidarity with the people of Belgium and that American thoughts and prayers are with them and saying the world must unite. He then attended an exhibition baseball game.
That response was reminiscent of the August 2014 beheading by ISIS of American journalist James Foley. At the time, President Obama was vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard. He briefly interrupted his vacation to say that America would be “vigilant” and “relentless” in its fight against ISIS. He then left for a round of golf.
Hillary Clinton struggled yesterday to sound tough. But she is trapped by her inability to renounce US policy on fighting terror that she, herself, played a significant role in creating.
Every time there is an attack world leaders mouth the same platitudes about thoughts and prayers and standing united, etc., etc. But none seems up to the task of actually doing something about Islamic terrorism. The Belgian government all but conceded defeat yesterday. The French live in constant fear of the next attack. The Germans famously admitted tens of thousands of Muslim refugees from Syria into their country. The Brits are distracted by a looming vote to withdraw from the European Union.
Barack Obama is watching baseball in Cuba.
Donald Trump says he wants to hit ISIS “so hard, they never recover.”
To a lot of increasingly frightened voters, that sounds like a good idea.
Events, dear boy.