The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Trump Responds to the Weekend’s Shootings

President Donald Trump speaks about the shootings in El Paso and Dayton in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: At the White House, Trump turns his attention and anger toward the sinister ideologies of “racism, bigotry, and white supremacy”; suggestions that the alt-right has already peaked and is splintering; and the most interesting Democrat running for president who’s getting no attention from big media institutions.

Trump versus Hate

President Trump, speaking at the White House yesterday: “The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate. In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul. We have asked the FBI to identify all further resources they need to investigate and disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorism — whatever they need.”

Every couple of weeks or months, the national discourse returns to familiar questions about whether Donald Trump is xenophobic, racist, or anti-Semitic. People who already disagreed with all of his policies insist that he is, and often declare that anyone who supports him wears those labels as well. People who already agreed with all of this policies vehemently deny the accusation, and point out that Trump would be the odd kind of xenophobe who married two immigrants, the odd kind of racist who hangs out with Al Sharpton and previously expressed support for affirmative action, and the odd kind of anti-Semite who is close to his Jewish son-in-law, whose daughter converted to Judaism, and who’s pro-Israel.

For some, that resolves the issue.

Trump may never have explicitly or overtly sought the support of white supremacists, but for some reason they seemed to gravitate to him in 2015 and 2016. The Daily Stormer endorsed him two weeks after he entered the race. Klan members described his candidacy as a “recruitment tool.”

You may recall Trump being asked whether he would reject the support of David Duke on the campaign trail and answering, “I just don’t know anything about him,” even though Trump had criticized Duke in interviews years earlier. Trump eventually added in a subsequent comments, “David Duke endorsed me? Okay, alright. I disavow, okay?” During the campaign, Trump kept retweeting praise from white supremacist accounts, either strikingly oblivious to who he was retweeting or simply not caring. Some interpreted the pattern as a subtle signal of alliance.

Stephen Bannon famously proclaimed Breitbart was “the platform of the alt-Right;” he became one of Trump’s campaign strategists and went on to become Trump’s chief strategist in the White House. Trump fired him and eventually did get mad at Bannon, but over the personal sin of trashing the president’s children in front of Michael Wolff. Trump only saw Bannon as a bad guy after the personal insult, not because of anything in Bannon’s worldview.

During the presidential campaign, Trump chose to appear on Alex Jones’ program, telling the conspiracy-minded host, “your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down. You will be very, very impressed, I hope.” By that point, Jones had spent several years insisting that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged.

Whether or not Trump was actually on the side of racists, white supremacists, and white nationalists, they certainly believed he was on their side — and Trump never seemed all that bothered by their alleged misperception. Every American has witnessed Trump’s fury when it’s directed at Jim Comey, or Robert Mueller, or Don Lemon, or Mika Brzezinski or whoever irritated him on television that day. But for some reason, the man who obsesses about what other people are saying about him never got all that mad about these folks telling the world that he was on their side.

An outspoken white nationalist sought to be a convention delegate for him. Recall the odd post-election celebration for Richard Spencer with former MTV star Tila Tequila, making Nazi salutes. Trump’s actions and statements around the Charlottesville white-nationalist rally have been debated to death.

Every public figure runs the risk of attracting mentally unstable fans; no one blames Jodie Foster for John Hinkley Jr. attempting to assassinate President Reagan. Trump never told Cesar Sayoc to do anything; but Sayoc seemed to believe he was helping the president by sending thankfully non-functioning bombs to media figures critical of the president.

It is fair to note that a variety of recent white-nationalist terrorists have denounced President Trump as a traitor to their cause, like the Poway Synagogue shooter and the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooter. The El Paso shooter declared that his opinions “predate Trump and his campaign for president,” and predicted that the media would, in his opinion, erroneously report that he was a white supremacist. Of course, he had just predicted a Hispanic takeover of the government and argued that he opposes “race mixing because it destroys genetic diversity and creates identity problems” and proposed dividing America into several separate nations, each one representing a particular race. Gee, I can’t imagine why anyone would consider him to be a white supremacist. [Cue the lengthy debate among pedants about why white separatism isn’t quite as bad as white supremacism.]

It also worth noting that some mass shooters or domestic terrorists are quite opposed to the president — the Dayton shooter, the guy who tried to shoot Republican congressmen at the baseball field, the guy who tried to blow up the ICE facility in Tacoma. Pundits diminish the threat posed by domestic terrorism when they discuss it as if it is just a particularly angry and motivated segment of Trump’s political base.

Last month, Vice declared, “the alt-Right’s love affair with Trump is over,” declaring a breakup driven “partly because the heyday of the “alt-right” as a coordinated bloc is over — and partly because they feel betrayed by Trump.” Some who watch the alt-right believe it’s losing steam, splintering, and generally crawling back under the rocks where it previously resided.

That’s good news, but perhaps one of the reasons those with extreme views are lashing out with violence more frequently as Trump’s presidency continues is that he’s not delivering on that white nationalist utopia they thought he would herald. When a paranoid conspiracy theorist doesn’t get what he wants from authorities, he quickly concludes that “they” got to him.

Someday Trump will depart the presidency, and most of these angry folks will still be out there. The specifics of their diatribes may change, but not their all-encompassing sense of grievance, rage, and entitlement. The yoga studio shooter’s rage was directed more at women, echoing the “incel” argument of frustrated young men who feel the world’s women are conspiring to deny them the sexual attention they deserve. These people aren’t dangerous because they think the president secretly agrees with them; these people are dangerous because they think violence is a justified tool to get what they want.

These days, David Duke is endorsing Tulsi Gabbard, contending she will put American interests over Israeli interests. (Does he care that her heritage is partially Samoan? Is it a strange triumph of our era that even the preferred candidates of white supremacists are getting more racially diverse?)

Our old friend Tiana Lowe writes over at the Washington Examiner, “Perhaps Trump breathed life into the alt-right, but Monday he showed he could quash it.” I would love for that to be true, and hope it turns out to be true. I would love to see Trump express vivid, public, and sustained anger at these groups and individuals, and take great outrage that any of these losers could possibly think he would approve of their actions. If there’s anything Trump is good at, it’s insulting people. I’d love to see the president mock and belittle those who think that a shooting spree will turn them into heroes.

This morning, Trump is fuming about President Obama’s criticism, retweeting a comment from Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, “Did George Bush ever condemn President Obama after Sandy Hook. President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign. Not many people said Obama is out of Control. Mass shootings were happening before the President even thought about running for Pres.” Subsequent tweets fumed about Google attempting to “illegally subvert the 2020 election” and money moving from China to the United States.

The Really Under-the-Radar Democratic Presidential Candidate

Over on the homepage today, a profile of retired admiral and former congressman Joe Sestak, “the most interesting Democrat that you forgot was running.” Maybe you agree with Sestak’s stances, maybe you don’t, but he’s willing to take his arguments to any audience willing to hear them — from National Review to Sean Hannity to Breitbart Radio. The Democratic party would be better if more of its members shared that amiable willingness to engage with just about anyone, instead of dismissing half the country or nearly half the country as unenlightened, hopeless. . . well, I suppose “deplorables” would be the appropriate word.

ADDENDA: We’re going to spend much of the week hearing about the need for “universal background checks,” even though both shooters of this weekend passed the background check and purchased the gun. (As we argued yesterday, the Dayton shooter probably should have faced charges or mental health inquiries over his actions in high school.) See if anyone remembers that federal authorities failed to put the proper information into National Instant Criminal Background Check System, mistakes that failed to prevent gun sales to the shooters in Charleston and Sutherland Springs, TX, and the FBI did nothing when called and warned about the Parkland shooter.

A “universal background check” that uses a system that doesn’t work is a placebo.

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