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The horrific massacre in Orlando brought us to an intersection of issues and controversies.

It's as if a warren of winding streets all merged, a round-about of conflicting and confusing causes came together. Some have referred to it as a perfect storm, a rare combination of circumstances that aggravates a situation drastically or creates a crisis.

In this case we have terrorism, the Muslim religion and ISIS, immigration policy, the too-easy availability of military-style weapons, along with human rights and respect for diversity, and, indeed, the struggle to retain our nation's core values amidst a climate of fear-mongering. If that's not enough, and what makes this even more salient, is that this all occurs within the context of a generally inert Congress and an extraordinary and unprecedented presidential election campaign. And you can always throw in the role of the media -- particularly social media.

Let's acknowledge that there's much we don't know about the terrible tragedy in Orlando and exactly what motivated the killer. We are hearing varied interpretations -- was this an act of Islamic terrorism, domestic gun violence, or homophobia, or a combination of all those factors? And how does this affect politics, notably at the presidential and congressional levels?

How did we get to this intersection and where might we be headed?

Of course, at or near the center of this maelstrom is the presidential race, particularly the candidacy of Donald Trump. As I have previously written, Trump is a serial subject-changer, tossing claims outwith little or no factual basis, but getting them on the public agenda -- then repeating that pattern over and over on differing subjects. Likewise, he is a chronic blame-shifter, not even taking responsibility for his own statements, though his first comment after the Orlando tragedy was self-congratulatory. He tweeted, "Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism."

Meanwhile, too many of us are willing, indeed eager, to settle for simple answers to complex questions and we too easily fall prey to fear-mongering.

It is important to understand that broad-gauged anti-Islamic rhetoric plays into the hands of the terror groups and is a prime recruiting tool for them.

Trump sees terrorism as resulting from policies and actions of the current administration. He said Obama was putting U.S. enemies ahead of the American people, even hinting that Obama was sympathizing with terrorists. He often brings up such subjects by saying "many believe," though we don't always know who "many" might be. "Media fell all over themselves criticizing what Donald Trump may have insinuated" about the president, Trump tweeted about himself, linking to a friendly website that claimed to have proof the Obama administration had backed a terror group in Iraq.

Sen. John McCain, facing a tough re-election battle in Arizona, also caste blame on President Obama, suggesting that his administration was responsible for the rise of ISIS. Let's be clear: there's plenty of blame to go around, much of it having little to do with the United States. And let's not forget a basic factor. It was the George W. Bush administration that undertook the terribly costly and drastically misguided military intervention in Iraq that eventually resulted in a domino effect that shifted or exacerbated alignments in that region, paving the way for ISIS.

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association said Obama and Democrats are favoring new weapons restrictions to divert attention away from "embarrassment of their failure in this terrorist area."

Speaking of guns, surveys indicate that the public favors reasonable limitations, specifically on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Even Trump, who pays homage to the Second Amendment and the NRA, backs closing the "terrorist loophole" and agrees with "no-fly, no-buy" restrictions, making it harder for suspected terrorists to buy weapons, as should have been the case with the Orlando shooter. There is also strong support for universal background checks, but the NRA opposes almost any limitations, regardless of how commonsensical they might be. The failure of the Senate to enact even very modest restrictions shows how difficult it is to get action on this issue.

Recent events have brought us to this intersection of issues. Will we remain stuck at this intersection, with politicians jockeying for political advantage? Or could it also somehow be a crossroads, offering an opportunity to move in a more positive direction, reflective of our true national interests and consistent with our core values?

Commentary on 06/22/2016

Print Headline: A nation at a crossroads

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