The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion President Trump makes it all worse. Here’s how it could be different.

President Trump talks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday. (Marlena Sloss/The Washington Post)

WE KNOW by now not to waste time calling on President Trump to do the right thing. He sows division and bigotry rather than promoting unity and understanding. Whatever he promises, in the crunch he capitulates to the gun lobby.

But on a weekend of horrifying and hate-fueled violence, we also know that it doesn't have to be this way. Mass shootings need not be routine, as most every other country demonstrates. Leadership need not be negative and supine.

Here is what a presidential president might say:

My fellow Americans,

These are dark days and nights of August. A weekend — a time for Americans to gather at the beach, the mall, a music festival — has brought us horror. Let us resolve to transform our great anguish into action, permanent and effective action. This horror will no longer be normal in our country.

Today, I am calling on Congress to return to Washington for an immediate joint session, to give up their district politicking and take action to combat gun violence. Enact a ban on sales of military-style assault rifles, as well as high-capacity magazines. This weaponry was made for war; its purpose is to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. It doesn’t belong on our streets.

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Make background checks mandatory. And for those who have other ideas, such as federal licensing and buy-backs, come forward, and we will work on them. I have instructed my administration to undertake a major scientific research effort on gun violence that will help us chart more answers in the long term. We must free ourselves of a special interest lobby. I will personally campaign for the solutions as hard as I can and invite those from both parties to join me.

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I am also sick about the rivers of hate speech and fear coursing through our society. It is time to assert, in the boldest way we can: In America, there is no room for racism, no tolerance for hatred, no silence in the face of those who incite racial violence and preach manifestos of supremacy. We welcome and value all Americans, no matter where they or their ancestors came from.

As difficult as it will be, we must confront this dark sickness on the digital pathways, on the cultural playgrounds and in the classrooms. This is not only a job for government. It is a mission for all of us, but I am asking law enforcement to boost its attention to combating domestic terrorism.

We can bring change while respecting our fundamental values. We will not trample on free speech, free assembly or the constitutional right to bear arms. But rights have always come with responsibilities, and I think it is time we seize that responsibility and act as though our rights depended upon it.

Let us give our word to the victims — to the dozens killed and wounded this weekend, and the hundreds and thousands in recent years — that we will not rest without results.

Thank you, and let’s get to work.

Read more:

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Jennifer Rubin: There is no excuse for supporting this president

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