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Trump Says He’ll Eradicate Terrorism. He’s Inviting It Instead.

His reaction to the truck attack in Berlin, and his disinterest in daily intelligence briefings, show a reckless indifference to Americans' safety.

Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images

Monday’s deadly truck attack at a Christmas market in Berlin is certainly cause for alarm here in the United States, where “lone wolf” attacks are on the rise. But even more alarming was President-elect Donald Trump’s reaction to the massacre. He released a knee-jerk statement calling it a “horrifying terror attack,” adding that “ISIS and other Islamic terrorists continuously slaughter Christians … as part of their global jihad” and that these terrorists “must be eradicated from the face of the earth.”

Trump said this at a time when German authorities knew close to nothing about the case, including the attacker’s motive. Worse, Trump made no equivalent statement about a gun attack on Muslims in Zurich the same day. Such selective condemnation and rush to judgment, especially when he becomes president, could inflame tensions worldwide.

Trump’s tough talk on terrorism is not matched thus far by his actions. For someone hell bent on “eradicating” terrorism, he seems uninterested in doing the necessary homework. Earlier this month, he told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that unlike previous presidents, he doesn’t need intelligence briefings every day. “You know, I’m, like, a smart person,” he said. “I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”

This shows a reckless indifference to the security of our country, so much so that former CIA Director Leon Panetta said: “If we endure another attack and the intelligence officials had indications or information regarding that attack and the president did not want to listen to that, for whatever reason, the responsibility for that attack would fall on the president.”

Trump’s cavalier attitude about intelligence extends beyond skipped briefings. He has repeatedly attacked U.S. intelligence agencies for reaching the conclusion that the Russian government, if not President Vladimir Putin himself, directed the hacks that meddled with the U.S. election. How are the citizens of this country supposed to feel safe knowing that their president is not only hostile toward the CIA and FBI, but imagines himself too “smart” for intelligence briefings and insists on keeping private security detail rather than entrusting his safety entirely to the Secret Service?

Considering Trump’s numerous real estate holdings across the world—particularly in New York City—it’s puzzling that he isn’t worried about potential attacks. Doesn’t he realize that his properties are likely targets? Does he not understand that his rhetoric might inspire more terrorism? If anything, the kinds of attacks happening around the world today require even more innovative thinking about how to target terrorists, not stale demagoguery.

Trump ran as the “law and order” candidate, warning us that terrorism was out of control and that “I alone can fix it.” He repeatedly blamed George W. Bush for allowing 9/11 to happen “under his watch.” Any attacks on U.S. soil that happen under “Trump’s watch,” then, can only be attributed to his own negligence. Democrats must remember the lesson of the Bush years, and vigorously resist any attempt by Trump to fashion a narrative after a terrorist attack which would require us entering into new wars or curtailing civil liberties or registering Muslims. There must never be another Patriot Act.

Americans, including Democrats in Congress, were fooled by Bush. After two disastrous wars and the rise of ISIS, they won’t be fooled so easily again. Trump has earned no trust from us, and his actions and rhetoric are only exacerbating an already complex problem. If he continues down this path, then Democrats have a responsibility to lay the blame exactly where it deserves to be laid: with a president who doesn’t know very much, and doesn’t seem interested in learning.