While Republican presidential hopeful, and frontrunner, Donald Trump was flirting with a national registration system for Muslims and reckoning that a protester at one of his rallies probably deserved to be “roughed up,” President Obama was a world away being appropriately presidential.
The president, knowing and understanding the worry about terrorism in the wake of attacks in Paris and Mali, urged Americans not to “succumb to fear” or think of the terrorist threat as a “new normal.” Obama was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on a three-day tour of Asia following a summit with other world leaders.
Other Republican candidates rejected Trump’s preposterous notion of a government database to track all Muslims in the United States, including citizens. Even Trump backed off after criticism within his own party. But all Republicans have exploited the attacks in Paris and Mali as a way to get at criticisms of President Obama’s handling of the threats of terrorism.
That kind of knee-jerk opportunism doesn’t advance debate, and it certainly doesn’t add to the credentials of the candidates as presidential material. Instead, they become just hecklers in the peanut gallery, firing jabs at the president as he tries to calm down the world and reassure Americans that one of the ways to fight the Islamic State is by refusing to panic.
Fear is fuel for terrorists, who thrive on the belief they can bring the world, or part of it, to a standstill with their threats. As Obama says, the world can fight the Islamic State by vowing “to not elevate them, to somehow buy into their fantasy that they’re doing something important.”
Yes, it was a president who said, “And so even as we destory ISIL on the battlefield – and we will destroy them – we want to make sure that we don’t lose our own values and our own principles.” That, of course, was in reference to the fact that his political opponents would like to use Syrian refugees, many of them women and children, as convenient targets for those who allow their fears and prejudices to overwhelm their better instincts of inclusion of the dispossessed.
A president’s task in crisis is to remind people of their power, not their vulnerability, just as Franklin Roosevelt, in the midst of the Depression, spoke of pushing away “fear itself.”
The president of the United States does not have the luxury of using explosive, irresponsible rhetoric. He must govern and he must lead, his own country and the rest of the world. President Obama understands this and, even in the face of blistering criticism, has rightly stayed his course.
CLARIFICATION: Prior versions of this editorial said "In the earliest days of World War II," which has been changed to "in the midst of the Depression."