President Donald Trump had to go all the way to Saudi Arabia to discover that bashing Muslims is a bad idea.
Now if only he would follow up at home.
The president’s address on Sunday to the leaders of more than 50 Muslim states was billed as a speech on Islam, but it wasn’t. It was an America-first speech, reflecting Trump’s often-stated priorities. He simply called on his listeners to partner up with the United States to do more to defeat terrorists.
Trump expressed respect for Islam and made a welcomed distinction, which he does not make at home, between terrorists and Muslims. “Every time a terrorist murders an innocent person and falsely invokes the name of God, it should be an insult to every person of faith,” he said. “Terrorists do not worship God. They worship death.”
But the president was sparing with the flattery, unlike previous presidents on such trips, and there was no effort at long-term bridge-building by reaching out to Sunni and Shiite Muslims alike. On the contrary, his interests were coldly strategic — what can each nation can do right now to fight terrorism — to the point of assuring this crowd of autocrats that he would not judge their often abysmal human rights records.
“We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship,” Trump declared.
If Trump truly has seen the light and no longer has any interest in trashing the religion of 1.6 billion people, he might want to rescind an executive order putting a hold on visas for people from six Muslim-majority countries. Though the Trump administration says otherwise, the order wrongly targets Muslims, as a federal court has ruled, singling them out on the basis of religion.
Candidate Trump would say anything to stir up his base. This is the fellow who told Anderson Cooper on CNN: “Islam hates us.”
President Trump trades in outrageous claims, as well, but he demonstrated uncharacteristic restraint in his first big speech abroad. Maybe because he stuck to a script.
Given Trump’s willingness to say one thing on one day and the opposite on another day, though, his actions matter more than his words. His executive order speaks louder than any speech.