The world is watching us. Americans always have known that. But for a while now, I’ve been troubled by what others see.
We have become a mirror image of the things terrorist Omar Mateen espoused: bigotry, anger, intolerance, hatred, radicalism, violence and fear.
And as a country, we’ve pretty much said to hell with portraying a united front.
We no longer try to pretend to stand together as Americans. In fact, we’ve gone to great lengths to prove that we don’t particularly like each other.
Our enemies watch our family infighting as closely as we follow “Game of Thrones.” And at the end of each episode, the message rings clear: We are a country divided, consumed by the opposing political ideologies that once kept us balanced but now rip us apart.
Orlando should be our wake-up call. It’s time to cut it out.
An American citizen, pledging his allegiance to the Islamic State, opened fire at a gay nightclub early Sunday, killing 49 people and injuring 53 more in the most prolific mass shooting in U.S. history.
It was the worst act of terrorism since 9/11. But what a difference 15 years makes.
In the aftermath of the 2001 attacks, Americans showed the kind of resolve that has long made us the most powerful nation in the world. We lifted ourselves from the ashes of the twin towers, more determined than ever to show the world that we could never be defeated. We wrapped our arms around each other and stood solidly behind our president. We were proud to be Americans and it showed.
This time, we sought to undermine President Obama. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee called for his immediate resignation.
On Sunday, our leaders talked a good game while warning our enemies, promising that we would stand together as Americans to protect our people and defend our nation against all threats. But it felt like we were shielding ourselves behind a delicate, see-through veil, not an impenetrable suit of armor.
President Obama was unconvincing in this, his 14th time going in front of the cameras to console the American people in the aftermath of a mass shooting.
“This is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country,” he said. “And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.”
Once I would have found comfort in such a declaration. This time, I don’t believe it.
Like many of us, Obama is tired of spinning in a circle. A mass shooting occurs and we mourn for the victims and their families. We debate what we can do to keep such a tragedy from happening again. And then we do nothing.
Though ISIL has claimed credit for the attack, it is unclear whether the Syrian and Iraqi jihadi group was directly responsible. Regardless, we have always known that an attack by a lone wolf was imminent.
Yet we have refused to pass federal legislation that could have made it tougher for terrorists like Mateen, who had been on the FBI’s radar, to legally purchase assault weapons like the one he used in the slaughter.
In his speech, Obama reminded us that we have to decide what kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing, he said, is a decision as well.
We also have to decide if we once again want to be a country that sets an example for the world, one that can put our differences aside and come together when we need each other most. Or will we allow bigotry to block our vision?
Americans don’t create haters like Mateen, but if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we have created a comfortable environment in which they can thrive.
As we move closer to the general election in November, I fear we will move farther away from the virtues that make America great. Once again, we will fight over gun control, and in the end, call it a draw. We will get into heated arguments over building a wall on the Mexican border and fighting terrorism by banning Middle Easterners from entering our country. We will clash at campaign rallies over the equal rights for women, minorities and gay Americans.
And we will do it while the world looks on.
We won’t look like a country that is pulling together. ISIL won’t see it that way, either.
Our enemies will sit back and watch us beat each other to a pulp. And when we’re too weak to throw another punch, they will step into the ring and take the final blow.
Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may e-mail her at email@example.com.