The backlash following Donald Trump's tweets Sunday after the horrific massacre in Orlando felt, in some ways, familiar. It's now a pattern -- a disturbing, unsettling one -- that comes after a mass shooting in this country: Tragedy, followed by expressions of thoughts and prayers, followed by debate over what politicians say and how it gets politicized as the country grapples with the human carnage.
Yet this time, the backlash focused on Trump's willingness to insert himself into the news -- to make even a single moment of the immediate aftermath in the senseless tragedy about himself.
Not once, but twice, Trump took up the valuable 140 characters of Twitter's real estate to point out that he was right. He said he "appreciate[s] the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism," even if yes, he said he doesn't "want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance." (More on that below.) Hours later, after saying "our leadership is weak and ineffective," he said "I called it and asked for the ban," referring to the ban he has proposed on Muslims from entering the United States.
In a statement on his web site, he again said he was right: "I said this was going to happen – and it is only going to get worse." On Monday, he told Fox News that he's been "right about many, many things" and told "Today" that "I'm the one who predicted it, and I'm the one who said what you should be doing and I don't want the credit." When he renewed his call for a ban on Muslims entering the country in a speech Monday in Manchester, N.H., he went beyond his prepared remarks, saying "I've been saying that for a long time" about the threat of terrorism getting worse, as well as that "I've gotten no credit for it, but these are minor details," about his push to change a NATO policy.
The "I-told-you-so" refrain didn't go unnoticed. Just one example: Republican strategist Ana Navarro tweeted "Translating Trump: '20 people are dead. 42 people are injured. But of course, 1st, it's all about Me. Me. Me.' Ugh."
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Trump has a big ego. This is the same man who criticized a news anchor for not congratulating him and who talks of winning at every turn. An NBC News report shows that he's tweeted about getting credit or "being far more correct about terrorism than anybody" amid tragedies in the past.
But in the hours following a horrific tragedy -- whatever the cause, whoever the perpetrator -- there is no place for reminding people who was right, for saying "I called it," for talking about who predicted it. Yes, as Trump's supporters on Twitter have pointed out, Trump did say he doesn't "want congrats" or doesn't "want the credit." If that's the case, why bother bringing it up at all? He could just publicly ignore the messages he's getting. The immediate aftermath of a tragedy this senseless should be a time for leaders to focus all of their words and attention on the people who died, on the first responders treating the injured, on the families grieving their immense loss, on the course of action for the future.
In truth, while deflecting attention from oneself is particularly important in a time of crisis and catastrophe, it's also useful for any leader at any time. The concept of an authoritative, ego-driven style of leadership has long been seen as out of step with what most people want in the people who lead them. Leaders are there not to remind us they were right, but to serve and support the people they lead.
This is particularly so when it comes to people who aspire to government leadership. It's called public service for a reason. And when it comes to the highest, most powerful job in public service, the standard for suppressing the need to be right is rightfully, appropriately steep. What matters isn't who predicted it, only what can be done to keep it from happening again.