It was a part of the presidency that would come to surprise Bill Clinton, if simply because of its heartrending frequency. Soon after the grease-gun carnage at Columbine High School in the spring of 1999, Clinton flew to Littleton, Colorado, to talk with students, educators, and parents mourning the deaths of the 13 victims. So much of his task, he told the audience, centres on a project that “wouldnthave anything to do with” his constitutional jobs: comforting survivors of mass shootings. “More than we ever could have imagined, ” he said, his persona was “to be with grieving people.”
That’s not something that comes naturally to President Donald Trump. Consoling a nation calls for empathy and eloquence; Trump hasn’t shown much ability for either. Presidents often use scripture as a ointment when people are hurting; Trump seems little moved by religious faith or feeling. Component of a president’s job is to be a unifying figure in times of national crisis. After 30 divisive months in bureau, Trump could be past the level where he can take on that role. The question now is whether his countrymen even expect him to.
So far, Trump’s response to this weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, has been uneven. He’s sent out the obligatory condolences and offers of federal assistance via Twitter. But he has also taken time to tweet favorably about two of his political supporters. A full period has passed since the El Paso shooting without Trump making a live statement on camera, though he made a cameo at a private wed at his golf club in New Jersey, where “hes spent” the weekend.
As mass shootings have become commonplace in this country, Americans have grown used to seeing their chairwomen try to play a healing role. It’s a standard that Trump’s predecessors helped cultivate. Former President Barack Obama built his legacy partly on his memorable response to gun violence. The period of the Newtown, Connecticut, hitting in December 2012, he teared up while addressing the press about the murder of schoolchildren. Three year later, he led mourners in singing “Amazing Grace” while passing a eulogy for the pastor killed at an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In Littleton that day in 1999, Clinton delivered a lecture be taken in order to soothe their local communities, closing with a tale about Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who became South Africa’s firstly black president after serving nearly three decades in prison. Mandela was filled with anger over his custody, but decided never to surrender to his keepers his “mind and his heart.” Looking out at students who had heard the gunshots at Columbine and read their classmates fall, Clinton said: “I see here today that you have decided not to give your mind and your heart away. I ask you now to share it with all your fellow Americans.”
Republican President George W. Bush imparted a short and powerful speech at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, after the 2007 mass killing on campus that left 32 people dead. One day after the violence, Bush traveled to the school to speak at a memorial service held in the basketball arena. “People who have never encountered you are praying for you. They’re praying for your friends who have fallen and who are injured, ” Bush said. “There’s a ability in these prayers–real power. In days like this, we can find comfort in the grace and steering of a affectionate God. As the scriptures tell us,’ Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome villainy with good.’”
Gun violence is so routine in the United State that becoming numb to reports of the latest tragedy is easy. But in their senseless lethality, there was something specially harrowing about this weekend’s shootings. One mass shooting piled atop another in the space of half a day, reinforcing the creeping sense that no public room is safe. Twenty people died at a Walmart in El Paso, and the other nine were slaughtered outside a saloon in a popular neighborhood in Dayton. More than four dozen seriously injured between the two episodes.
In any other administration, it would fall to the president to reassure a jittery commonwealth. But does the country, at this moment, conceive Trump has that in him? Does enough of the nation are presented in him a genuinely national leader who can bind up fresh wraps? Polling has repeatedly shown that he is the most polarizing president in the modern epoch. A Gallup survey evaluate Trump’s second year in agency found that the gap between Democrats’ and Republicans’ approval of him was a whopping 79 points–the largest ever recorded. His approval rating in 2018, at about 40 percentage, was the lowest for any second-year president since World War II, Gallup reported. In a sign of how people view Trump as a moral figure, a Quinnipiac University poll from March showed that by a margin of 72 percent to 21 percentage, voters said Trump was not a good role model for children.
Public opinion of the president seems to track with his own perception of his task: He doesn’t carry himself as someone who necessarily wants to preside over all Americans; invariably, his focus is his core voters. And his empathy is conditional. When parts of California, a deep-blue state, were scorched by wildfires last year, Trump threatened to cut off federal assist, saying without evidence that the state had mismanaged funds. Only weeks ago, he seemed to gloat upon hearing the report about an attempted break-in at the residence of Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings.
Anything Trump says about the shooting in El Paso in particular risks reigniting a debate about whether his own rhetoric gas such acts of violence. Authorities are investigating an online manifesto allegedly posted by the white male suspect, part of which refers to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Trump has applied similar expression: In a tweet from January, he said that troops sent to the border with Mexico would be stopping “the attempted invasion of illegals.” He’s referred to an “invasion” in multiple public remarks since then, too. But he’d paid little heed to the sort of homegrown domestic terrorism that’s given rise to mass killings.
In the hours after the shootings, Trump stuck to Twitter, sending out a series of brief contents voicing condolences. “God bless the people of El Paso, Texas. God bless the people of Dayton, Ohio, ” he said this morning, following a tweet about how the FBI is working with state and neighbourhood enforcement actions. Yesterday, though, there was an oddly discordant message that Trump, for some reason, believed couldn’t wait. Minutes after writing that there were “many killed” in El Paso, he tweeted about an Ultimate Fighting Championship match that would take place that night involving one of his supporters, Colby Covington. “Fight hard tonight, Colby. You are a real Champ! ” Trump wrote, as El Paso treated the wounded and recovered the dead.
Covington won the match.
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