The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Death in Las Vegas: The diminished president responds

President Trump spoke on Oct. 2 about the shooting in Las Vegas the day before. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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The slaughter at a Las Vegas concert venue, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, likely will spur the same nonproductive, maddening political argument. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) put out a statement, which read in part:

This must stop. It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic. There are, and the thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference. It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something.

Most Republicans will finger-wag, admonishing Democrats not to “politicize” the incident, which itself is a preemptive attempt to cut off discussion about gun legislation. One fears that reasoned discussion about a holistic approach that might, for example, include restrictions on numbers of guns that can be purchased, mental-health resources and public-safety measures is beyond our capacity. Our political leaders and their hyper-partisans seem utterly incapable of rational problem-solving that goes beyond thread bare talking points. If the shootings of children (in Newtown, Conn.), nightclub-goers (in Orlando) and a congressman (in Alexandria) did not provoke sober debate and concrete results, we doubt the result here will be any different.

Tell us: What is the single best thing and single worst thing Trump has done since the election?

President Trump spoke appropriately in expressing “sadness, shock and grief.” He dubbed the shooting as an act of “evil” and praised the speed of the response by police and first responders as “miraculous.” His appeals to unity and the “ties of community” were aptly chosen and soberly delivered. And yet, his reputation as a provocateur and angry accuser now colors how many of us absorb his response. His frequent resort to race-baiting and contrived controversy lessens his effectiveness, and his erratic personality virtually ensures that in hours or days he will be back to his old stunts. His sincerity about unifying the country is immediately called into question.

Trump lacks the emotional stability to reduce emotions over the long haul. He lacks the intellectual sobriety to grapple with complicated, contentious issues. And we suspect he’ll soon return to senseless tweets and outbursts about the mayor of Puerto Rico, the press, Muslim immigrants, the NFL and the American flag, mention of which in remarks following a shooting would be unremarkable for any other president but sound like a dig at his adversaries coming from him.

We prefer catastrophe

We’d be remiss if we ignored how misdirected his prescriptions have been to various challenges and threats throughout his presidency. He focuses on foreigners, regardless of the actual threat they pose, as purveyors of crime and terrorism. He encourages cultural divisions as a way of cleaving to his base. A president who continually casts blame in the direction of politically convenient targets, rather than focus on the actual causes of our deep-seated problems, soon loses his moral authority and political influence. We are grateful he got through the remarks today without calamity, but we know the country’s calamitous plunge into irrationality, rancor and political dysfunction under this president will not end anytime soon.