In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka that have left some 290 dead (and many more injured), a number of prominent Democratic politicians and ex-politicians have taken to Twitter to express sympathy and solidarity with the victims—many of whom were Sri Lankan Christians attending Easter church services.
At first read, these statements come across as perhaps boilerplate, but nevertheless sincere expressions of grief following the horrible attacks that struck the island nation.
Not for many conservatives on Twitter however, who saw in Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's use of the term "Easter worshippers" an attempt to minimize the Christian identity of many of the victims, and obfuscate the religious motivations of the recent attacks.
These barbs are little more than partisan point-scoring. The reference to "Easter worshippers," while perhaps clumsy phrasing, is hard to see as anything but an attempt to highlight the religious motivations of these attacks, and the fact that they struck at Christian churchgoers as they were peacefully observing a religious holiday. What else is an Easter worshipper but a Christian?
Indeed, President Donald Trump's failure to say the word "Christian" in his tweeted response to these attacks attracted notably less outrage.
Silly as this is, it is nevertheless an incredibly predictable response, whereby any tragedy around the globe is quickly filtered through the lens of U.S. domestic politics as a way of opportunistically attacking one's partisan opponents.
Often these attacks will seize on the most innocuous words or phrases in an effort to convert someone's expressions of sympathy or sadness into dog whistles to a much more nefarious agenda.
This is not an exclusively right-wing tactic. Take, for instance, the left-wing attacks on Ben Shapiro, who responded to the Notre Dame cathedral fire by bemoaning the loss of "a magnificent monument to Western civilization." This was reported as a covertly racist sentiment, meant to stir up violence against Muslims.
I can't help but think that bickering over the precise phrases we need to use in the aftermath of the terroristic violence in Sri Lanka, even if it's not being done for cynical or partisan reasons, is not the best way to express sympathy for the victims or their families.