Have we ever had anyone, much less a president, issue a threat after a mass killing that if he didn’t get better press, there’s no telling how bad things will get? The non comforter-in-chief tweeted this mini-manifesto, weirdly echoing the one attributed to the El Paso shooter: “News coverage has got to start being fair, balanced and unbiased, or these terrible problems will only get worse!”
Between the El Paso massacre and that tweet, Trump had been busy, dining on the patio at his New Jersey resort, golfing there, dropping into a wedding to market his property with a grinning selfie with the bride, and promoting a prize fight. Where’s Ivanka when we need her?
Trump’s staff pried his thumbs off his phone and pulled together some words for him to read Monday, condemning “bigotry and white supremacy,” and “hatred that warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul.”The only response to that is “President, heal thyself.”
At least he didn’t say “thoughts and prayers,” a phrase that used to give those of us heartsick but tongue-tied a way to express our feelings when a loved one died. Now it’s a sickening cliché, a way to dodge any responsibility for gun violence, a phrase to hide behind until the latest massacre is out of the new news cycle. Before the National Rifle Association cratered under its own corruption, they’d perfected the bit. Now no one cares what they think, except lobbyists who push gun sales for a living and our supposed representatives who think an A rating from the NRA matters more than doing the right thing.
Since Trump read from a teleprompter Monday morning, his supporters see it as a hostage tape, one long wink conveying “They’re making me say this.” To others, even though they also know he doesn’t mean it, it wasn’t much but it was better than saying there were good people on both sides of the slaughter. We know there were good parents, the ones who fell on top of their two-month old, crushing his bones to save him, but leaving him an orphan. Tell me who’s on the other side of that and whether anyone thought before Saturday that it could happen during a trip millions of us made that day to a local big-box store.
In Trump’s other responses—none of which offered legislation to ban high-capacity magazines or weapons—he’s still in Wayne LaPierre’s pocket. Replacing “thoughts and prayers” as an empty platitude is blaming those with mental illness and those who play video games. Study after study has shown that games like Fortnite are a menace to high grades, outdoor sports, and family dinners but that players grasp the difference between pressing a button to blast a zombie and shooting up a nightclub.
As for Trump’s memorably daft claim that “mental illness and hate that pull the trigger, not the gun,” that’s tautological since the gun is not a gun without a trigger which is now pulled with a hundred rounds of ammo behind it, largely because Senator Mitch McConnell won’t let a bill come to the floor that would ban bump stocks. The Dayton chief of police said that 41 rounds mowed down nine people in 30 seconds, or about the time it took to read this paragraph.
What’s more there’s no sign that mental illness had motivated these two mass murderers. Our minds play tricks on us. Civilians find random, cold-blooded murders—much more frightening than husbands killing wives—insane. But statistics—and what it takes to plan any murder, much less slaughtering dozens of people in the minutes before police arrive—tell another story.
In the case of the El Paso killer, he also apparently had to take time to write a sloppy screed explaining himself, which eerily reads like the darker moments at a Trump rally. Sen. Chris Murphy, from the state where Sandy Hook happened, distilled America’s stats which puts mental defect as a cause or an excuse for murder to rest: “19 out of 20 murderers have no mental illness diagnosis. 4 out of 5 mass shooters have no mental illness diagnosis.” The hate, anger, extremism, and racial supremacy of which Trump spoke may well ravage the heart and soul, but not the mind sufficient to get a jury to return a verdict of manslaughter two by reason of insanity.
What’s more, while many other developed countries have a similar incidence of mental illness to ours, none comes close to our rate of gun violence. Canada? We have six times as many homicides; Sweden, seven times, and Germany, nearly 16 times as many, according to The Guardian, which assessed the U.N. data on the subject.
What’s insane is to believe that Trump hasn’t inflamed hatred and fomented violence. His handpicked FBI director Christopher Wray and his just-fired Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats have both pointed to the rising threat of white supremacist violence, albeit without pointing a finger directly at him. We see it with our own eyes, hear it with our own ears. The videos and the tweets—it’s inescapable. Just last week we saw Trump’s cruel streak. After trying to turn Rep. Elijah Cummings into something less than human for a week, the president rejoiced that his house had been broken into, announcing it had happened and commenting, “Too bad.”
By now you’ve seen the video of Trump’s rally in the Panhandle where he laughs along with the crowd that said shooting the Hispanic invaders (or take your pick: breeders, rapists or murderers infesting our country) was one way to keep them out. Don’t be numbed by it.
One of these days out of such a tragedy will come more than platitudes and avoiding responsibility, and promising worse if we don’t revere the president as he thinks he should be. Watch as Trump preens before the happy crowd, chin jutting out, basking in their approval. There’s not a hint that they aren’t right to feel that way because he, their president, does.
Shoot them, the crowd said. He praised them for it. And now someone has.