In a speech prepared for him to read from the Oval Office, President Trump has condemned the shootings in Dayton and El Paso, calling for unity in opposing hatred, white supremacists, violence, especially on the internet and social media, and promising additional resources for the FBI in addressing domestic terrorism. It approached presidential in content and tone, its language in stark contrast to the last three years of his behavior.
But even his improved rhetoric fell far short of serious gun safety reform and scarcely veils the same old same old. George Conway, spouse of Trump adviser Kellyanne, called Trump an evil racist political leader, a narcissist and sociopath, whose twitter rants will resume quickly and obliterate his speech. Senator Cory Booker’s assessment was even more to the point: “Such a bullshit soup of ineffective words.”
It is clear that two mass shootings in 24 hours, one shooter having published a manifesto railing against immigrants and Mexicans, seal our global brand as a leader in domestic terrorism. It is also patently clear that the President is either clueless or simply deceitful about his complicity in degrading norms of behavior and giving license to the verbal and behavioral expression of racism, hatred and intolerance toward “others,” especially those who are different because of the color of their skin, ethnic heritage, or immigrant status. This intolerance predated President Trump, but he has, for his own political purposes, encouraged white nationalism into the open. He has fanned the flames of division, notwithstanding today’s attempt to use the language of bringing people together.
Could this be a turning point? History challenges that wisp of hope. After Newtown, there were meetings at the highest level about changing gun laws. Nothing happened. After Parkland, some modest agreement seemed within reach, but the NRA had Trump’s ear, and he walked away. Hope for change was rekindled, but, other than the narrow step of banning bump stocks after a terrible Las Vegas shooting, nothing happened. (Bump stocks are an accessory that allows rifles to fire as rapidly as automatic weapons.)
As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, if the President is serious about meaningful background checks, he’ll get Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring to the floor two slightly bipartisan, House-passed bills achieving that goal. Donald Trump is mercurial, and one reasonably presidential call for unity in opposing hatred can’t hide the fact that his top priority is playing to the basest instincts of his base.
Trump is not alone in his cowardice. CNN’s Jake Tapper has called out Republican officials in Texas who declined to speak out regarding the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, including Texas’ GOP governor, lieutenant governor, and two U.S. Senators as well as the Republican Governor of Ohio, all of whom dodged interviews. Rare exceptions were Jeb Bush’s son Texas Lands Commissioner George P. Bush, who denounced white terrorism, and Republican state lawmaker John McCollister who called out his party for “enabling white supremacy.” “When the history books are written,” McCollister said, “I refuse to be someone who said nothing. The time is now for us Republicans to be honest with what is happening inside our party.” He implored his GOP colleagues “to stand up and do the right thing.”
I doubt the once “grand old party” will respond to his appeal. I am not registered to either political party. I do believe, however, that, despite overwhelming public support, even among legal gun owners, for more meaningful background checks, the only chance for modest, let alone significant change will come when Donald Trump is kicked out of office and the Democrats regain control of the Senate. That’s where the focus for the next 15 months must remain, and where all of our energies must be directed.