S.E. Cupp: After New York bombing, a grim choice

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New Yorkers pass a shattered storefront window on W. 23rd St. in Manhattan on Tuesday. The window was hit by shrapnel from the terrorist bomb that exploded across the street Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

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According to a June CNN poll, concern about terrorism is at its highest level since 2003, and a Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll revealed that 42 percent of Americans feel the country is less safe than it was before Sept. 11, 2001. Nine out of 10 said terrorism was at least somewhat likely to be a part of life in the future.

For those of us who were in New York or Washington on 9/11, and remember it viscerally, these polls are a heartbreaking gut punch. In addition to suffering the trauma of that day and its aftermath, we haven’t even emerged out of the dark hole of fear that is terrorism’s hallmark. Fifteen years later, we are still afraid.

Given the unending list of recent attacks here at home — the New York and New Jersey bombings and the Minnesota mall attack over the weekend, Orlando, San Bernardino, Chattanooga, etc. — it’s indeed a frightening time. So when, as Jeffrey Goldberg writes in the Atlantic magazine, President Obama “frequently reminds his staff that terrorism takes far fewer lives in America than handguns, car accidents and falls in bathtubs do,” we might be right to suspect our leaders underestimate the threat and how afraid we really are.

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This all plays right into the hands of both presidential candidates, who have reacted to the New York bombing with tough rhetoric.

Hillary Clinton said, “We are going to have to go after the bad guys and we are going to get them.” Donald Trump has called for unspecified “profiling,” and has repeatedly said of ISIS that he’ll “knock the hell out of ’em.”

But when it comes to actually combatting terrorism, voters unfortunately have two truly terrible choices in their presidential nominees. Neither Trump nor Clinton have proven themselves qualified to take on our serious terror threats.

Trump, for starters, is either unaware of or unconcerned about the constraints he would face as commander-in-chief. Many of his proposals are things we already do or cannot do because they would be illegal.

We already profile, in some cases as much as the Constitution will allow. He’s talked about spying on mosques, something we already do within legal constrictions.

He’s also suggested we starve ISIS by taking Iraq’s oil reserves — but stealing a sovereign nation’s natural resources is illegal, and also likely wouldn’t get Congress’ approval.

Trump wants to bring back waterboarding — “and much worse” — but that would require defying the Geneva Conventions. In the wake of the New York bombing, he lamented that the bombing suspect would be granted hospitalization and due process.

If voters think that skirting the legislative process, the Constitution and international laws are the answer to combatting terrorism, then he’s definitely the guy for them.

In reality, Trump’s proposals would make us less safe, not more safe. Banning Muslims wouldn’t have stopped the New York bomber or Orlando shooter. Both were U.S. citizens.

And exponentially growing the size of government to police people’s religious practices takes much-needed resources away from real threats. Trump has also said he’d be okay with countries like Saudi Arabia having nuclear weapons, and that he doesn’t trust our own intelligence agencies. Talk about terrifying.

Clinton, on the other hand, has lots of experience and knowledge, none of which seems to have taught her any tough lessons. Rather than acknowledge that ISIS has thrived under the current administration’s policies, she continually uses terror attacks to lecture Americans against Islamophobia and defend the inaction that has helped ISIS spread.

While insisting she’ll continue Obama’s policy of targeted airstrikes, which have just managed to dent ISIS’ stronghold, she’s making the questionable claim that ISIS is actually hoping Trump becomes president. Wouldn’t ISIS prefer the candidate who plans to continue the policies that have helped it endure and grow exponentially?

Clinton is hoping Trump’s ignorance and bombast will distract voters from the fact that it was her boss’ foreign policy decisions — pulling troops and intelligence out of Iraq in 2011, ignoring Syria for too long, attacking Libya only to leave it in chaos — that created the vacuum that ISIS has taken full advantage of.

So the decision for voters is: Do they want a candidate who has significant knowledge but will likely continue to underestimate our enemies? Or do they want a candidate with no knowledge, but who projects the kind of toughness that more accurately reflects the threat’s severity? In an age of real fear, frankly, neither is a reassuring choice.

Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com

This column originally appeared in the New York Daily News.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

Follow S.E. Cupp on Twitter: @secupp

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