Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: Sorry, Mr. President. We are not a land of quivering cowards

Donald Trump lies, but in his lies he will almost always tell you a truth. When he tells you the lie that three million people voted illegally, he is telling you that he fears his own legitimacy as president. When he tells you the lie that attendance at his inauguration broke all records, he is telling the truth about his insanely insatiable need to be loved.

And when Trump accuses the news media of ignoring or downplaying terror attacks perpetrated by radical Islamists, he is admitting the truth about his own political needs. He needs fear like other people need oxygen.

Contrary to the president's claim, the institutional bias of the media has been to overplay rather than underplay terror attacks, because nothing draws ratings and eyeballs better than violence, blood and murder. The words "active shooter" and "possible terror attack" guarantee immediate, breathless wall-to-wall cable coverage.

Indeed, when challenged to produce evidence of his claim, the Trump administration released a list of 78 terror-related incidents that it believes had been ignored or undercovered. The list includes terror attacks in Paris, Orlando, Sacramento and elsewhere that had received non-stop coverage for weeks. (It did not, however, include the infamous "Bowling Green Massacre.")

The most recent "undercovered" incidents on the Trump list occurred in December, with a truck attack in Berlin and the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. I decided to go see how the AJC covered it, and here's what I found:


Taken literally, then, Trump's statement is a lie. But the larger truth that his lie reveals is his frustration that you are not yet sufficiently terrified. He wants the land of the free and the home of the brave to act more like the land of quivering cowards, and he demands that the media help him in creating that terror.

You do not yet understand that the incoming Muslim hordes are plotting to impose Sharia law here in the United States, that they are all bad people out to do you harm. You do not appreciate the danger that Syrian refugees pose, even though no  Syrian refugee allowed to enter our country under the current vetting system of 18 to 24 months has ever committed or attempted to commit an act of terror. You do not understand that Mexican immigrants are here to kill you and rape your daughters. You do not understand the "American carnage" that threatens your safety, even though the nation's murder rate is half what it was 25 years ago.

Where other leaders will seek to calm and reassure, Trump must frighten, for your fear is his power. Only if you are sufficiently frightened will you turn to him for leadership and protection, succumbing to his claim that "I alone can fix it ... I alone can solve it."

The truth is that media coverage exaggerates rather than underplays terrorism as a threat. For example, did you know that two U.S. soldiers were shot and killed by an attacker in Kentucky Thursday night? If not, it's because they were killed in an act of domestic violence. Had there been any hint of Islamist involvement, believe me, you would have known. In fact, according to data compiled by Business Insider and the conservative Cato Institute, you are six times more likely to be killed by a shark attack and 260 times more likely to be killed by lightning than by a refugee turned terrorist.

Those numbers are not meant to imply that we don't have to be vigilant or that violent Islamic extremism is not a problem. It is very much a problem, and by far its biggest victims are Muslims themselves. What those numbers do provide is a sense of perspective, which is exactly what Trump is trying to deny you.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.