It was broadly noted yesterday that in reacting (long before the German government itself) to the apparent terrorist attack in Berlin, the President-Elect of the United States differed rather dramatically from the President of the United States. As Peter Beinart noted:
The Obama administration identified the victims as members of a nation. Its five-sentence statement about the Berlin attack used the words “Germany” or “German” four times….
Team Trump’s statement…described the victims as members not of a nation but of a religion…. people killed “as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday.” The Obama team’s statement made no assumptions about the victims’ faith: It simply noted that the attack had occurred at “a Christmas Market.” The Trump statement, by contrast, implied that the victims all celebrated Christmas. And it linked those killed in Berlin to other “Christians” who “ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter … in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.”
Anyone who assumes that Christmas shoppers are “Christians” must have the help do his own seasonal purchasing. As it happens, Germany is not a particularly religious country any more. And that’s especially true of Berlin, sometimes called the “atheist capital of Europe,” where 60% of residents claim to live without any religious faith.
Ironically, the only voices that would probably share Trump’s characterization of the victims of the Berlin attack as “Christians” belong to ISIS, which routinely describes all Europeans and Americans as Crusaders determined to finish the work of the medieval Church by reconquering all the Holy Lands and exterminating Islam.
Interestingly enough, when asked about the statement outside his Mar-a-Lago estate a day later, Trump seemed to backtrack, or perhaps expose himself to the suspicion he’s not familiar with the words his staff is attributing to him, as Alex Shephard suspects:
[W]hen asked specifically about that statement, Trump seemed confused, asking the reporter “Who said that? When did—when was that said?” Then, when told that he was the one who said it, in a statement, Trump seemed to edit the remark, saying “It’s an attack on humanity. That’s what it is. It’s an attack on humanity and it has to be stopped.”
It would actually be a good thing if Trump did not write that statement and now realizes that making his empathy for the victims conditional on their religion is a very bad, and un-American, idea. I’ll believe it is a trend if he avoids religious framing of terrorist acts in the future.