There’s a strange witchcraft in the Republican Party wherein the mere act of saying certain words can ward off grave evils. President Trump is its chief practitioner.
He invoked one such phrase at the first general election debate Tuesday night. “I don’t think you have any law enforcement [support],” Trump told Democratic nominee Joe Biden. “You can’t even say ‘law enforcement,'” he continued, “because if you say those words, you’re going to lose all of your radical left supporters. And why aren’t you saying those words, Joe? Why won’t you say the words ‘law enforcement’?”
Also on Biden’s list of phrases-that-must-not-be-named, Trump alleged, is “law and order.” Furthermore, the reason there’s been rioting and violence in American cities this past summer and during the Obama administration, Trump said, is that Democratic mayors “don’t want to talk — like [Biden doesn’t] — about ‘law and order.'” If they would but pronounce the magic incantations, all this violence would disappear!
This is deeply silly, and reminiscent of nothing so much as the circa 2016 claim that the Islamic State arose because then-President Barack Obama would not say the words “radical Islamic terrorism” (or some variant thereof). Obama “is the founder” of the Islamic State, Trump said at a rally that year, as he “refuses to use the term [radical Islamic terrorism]. Every time another [ISIS attack] happens, I keep saying, ‘I wonder if he’s gonna say it this time?’ And he doesn’t say it.” Around the same time, Trump ally Rudy Giuliani declared himself “disturbed … for years” by Obama’s failure to use the phrase, as did pundit Charles Krauthammer, and then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster repeated the charge in 2017.
Obama’s explanation for his choice — that he didn’t want to lump over a billion Muslims worldwide in with a far smaller number of murderous extremists — is debatable. Trump’s implication that using the phrase was somehow necessary for preventing the rise of ISIS or defeating it once arisen is not debatable. It’s nonsense.
ISIS would no more have been trounced by Obama labeling it “radical Islamic terrorism” than the last few months of rioting would have been forestalled by Democratic mayors saying “law and order” five times fast. (Could they say it at home alone, one wonders? Does the spell need an audience?) Verbal accuracy matters, but it isn’t magic. Bonnie Kristian