Tragedy always incites a number of strong reactions. In the case of the recent mass shooting in Orlando, the American public has used the tragedy as a soapbox of sorts to express their opinions about various societal issues. Donald Trump has used it as a justification of his anti-Islamic immigration stance, while democrats have referenced the shooting to highlight the problems with United States gun control—or lack thereof. These talking points, among others, undoubtedly have societal relevance and will likely impact the upcoming presidential election. I mean in no way to diminish the significance of these issues, or to trivialize their importance to American society. I would, however, argue that politicizing the Orlando tragedy shifts focus away from what is truly important about the tragedy and the response to it.
For me, the most enduring image from the Orlando tragedy was not the images of terror at the nightclub, but rather the scene outside of an Orlando-based blood bank—OneBlood—the next morning, where hundreds of locals gathered to donate blood to victims they had never met. Reinforcing the importance of this gesture is the fact that the FDA prohibits blood donation by gay men who have been sexually active in the past twelve months. This means that the overwhelming turnout of blood donors in Orlando was largely composed of straight individuals giving to predominantly LGBT strangers, highlighting the overwhelming sense of unity demonstrated by the people of Orlando in the wake of tragedy.
Just like in Orlando, masses showed up to donate blood to express sympathy for the Orlando survivors across America, to the point where many blood banks were filled to capacity. This, in my opinion, is the aspect of the Orlando shooting that deserves to be emphasized, both by the media and by our politicians. Using the tragedy to advance a political agenda, as both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump attempted to do in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, can be perceived as opportunistic and creates unnecessary divisions after a nationwide expression of sorrow and unity.
The fault for this politicization of tragedy does not necessarily lie within the politicians themselves. According to Daniel Drezner, a columnist for The Washington Post, the presence of social media, through which the general public can instantly demand responses from politicians and other figures in power, necessitates that politicians respond quickly to address tragedies, and to discuss the political ramifications of said tragedies.
In addition, politicizing tragedies is not inherently wrong, as noted by Katy Waldman in Slate. Many tragedies should give rise to important societal questions, such as those pertaining to the ongoing conversation about gun control. With that said, it is important to compartmentalize the political aspects of tragedy.
Yes, it is important to understand how political issues are often relevant when discussing events such as the Orlando shooting, but it is equally, if not more, important to look beyond the divisive aspects of tragedies and instead appreciate and take part in the general sense of unity that often occurs during the aftermath.