Moving Forward After The El Paso Shooting

Aug 11, 2019

Credit Peter Goodman

Commentary: Donald Trump didn't slaughter 22 human beings in El Paso, wounding and traumatizing many more. He didn't write the killer's racist “manifesto” that tracked Trump's rhetoric while seeking to protect Trump from blame. 

Trump mischaracterized the flood of asylum-seekers as “an invasion,” portraying these would-be immigrants as dangerous. (They're not.) The shooter called the Hispanics he sought to kill “invaders.”

Trump lashed out at Hispanic and Muslim congresswomen, telling them to “Go back where you came from!” – when three were natural-born U.S. citizens and the fourth a citizen longer than Trump's wife. When a Trump mob chanted “Send them back!” Trump wallowed in it. The shooter wrote of Hispanics that “one reason to send them back” was to minimize intermarriage.

The shooter knew so well that he was following Trump's lead that he made a lame effort to protect his hero. Having just turned 21, he stressed that he'd held his racist beliefs since he was a teenager. He added, “I am putting this here because some people will blame the President . . . I know that the media will probably call me a white supremacist anyway and blame Trump's rhetoric. The media is infamous for fake news.” 

The killer shared Trump's view, echoed Trump's thoughts and language, and sought to protect Trump's political image. That he was a racist in his teens tells us nothing about the role Trump's overheated, racist rhetoric played in this kid's demented desire to kill Hispanics – or his illusion that doing so was somehow justified, even patriotic. 

I don't think Trump wanted such a thing to happen. Someone careless with fire on a dry day likely doesn't “want” a deadly wildfire. 

I can only say that if my column reamed out some local company for polluting streams or killing workers, portraying the owners as vile and dangerous, and some kid with that column in his pocket killed the company's owner and his family, I'd feel pretty miserable. And stupid. And apologetic. (Which is one of the many reasons I seek no high office.)

Trump's racism isn't news. It doesn't answer any important questions. It poses them.

First, what must we do? Nail down the background checks requirement. Prevent private individuals from buying what are essentially weapons of mass destruction. Strengthen laws keeping guns out of the hands of men who beat their spouses or significant others. It's not that any or all of these restrictions would end these mass killings; but if they prevent some deaths, they're worth it. Further, these restrictions don't prevent people from keeping guns for hunting, protection, and other legitimate uses. 

Will anything happen this time? I think something will. Politicians talk about such steps briefly after each tragedy, then do nothing. Trump's talk of compromise elicited a blunt warning from the NRA that his core constituency wouldn't be pleased. But as time passes, with more senseless deaths, support slowly increases. One poll showed that 90% of us support universal background checks – 80% “strongly supporting” them, with five per cent opposing.

We also need, though we are angry, not to let our hearts fill with hatred for Trump, these shooters, or the NRA. Hatred is a poison the hater offers, but we need not drink it. As to our opponents: even hardened skinheads and passionate white supremacists, have learned and changed. Our tattered democracy needs all the civility and thoughtfulness we can give each other.



[The shooting had extra impact on us because it was so close to home and because the shooter so obviously echoed Trump's rhetoric.  One acquaintance has already told me he lost family in the shooting, and we likely know others.  The especially clear tie to Trump's rhetoric is sad confirmation of our fears, and we may soon see more such incidents.  I wonder if the sudden Republican willingness to consider at least some action arises directly from Republican embarrassment over their leader's role in this one.]


[Interesting:Just after finishing this column, I received a copy of this Vanity Fair piece on right-wing terrorists arguing for lesser sentences because of Trump .A defense attorney for the gent who sent (defective) pipe bombs to Trump's enemies argued, "In this darkness, Mr. Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump" and that Sayoc was a Trump "superfan" who began to believe leading Democrats were "imminently and seriously dangerous to his personal safety."

The piece cited "at least a half-dozen such cases," including a man convicted of plotting to bomb Somali refugees who argued that Trump (as a candidate) had inspired him.  Attorneys for a man who posted anti-Muslim threats on a mosque's Facebook page said he was just using language like Trump's to express thoughts like Trumps, while another defendant cited Trump's  travel ban.

A man accused of groping a woman on an airplane told arresting officers that the President said such conduct was okay, while attorneys for a man who "assaulted a child for not removing his hat during the national anthem" said he hadn't realized it was a crime because "his commander-in-chief is telling people that if they kneel, they should be fired."

As the Vanity Fair piece notes, "Trump and his allies have dismissed any suggestion that his words contributed to the violence, arguing that mental illness is to blame." 

A quote in the piece might apply to this shooter.  One expert says that for a person who feels "aggrieved or persecuted in your whiteness, . . . hearing the president say these things validates your feelings and it provides, in your own warped mind, an excuse to go out and act on your grievances."