People visit a makeshift memorial in El Paso, Tex., on Aug. 6. (John Locher/AP)

Lately, there have been calls to refrain from imputing racism to the president, such as the Aug. 11 letter from Michael J. DiStefano, “Guns, mass shootings and Mr. Trump.” True, we can’t know what’s in President Trump’s soul. But we can consider words and deeds and the atrocities they inspire.

Yes, primary responsibility for gun violence belongs to those who pull the trigger. But there is ample evidence of the vulnerability to dangerous rhetoric of those who harbor hate. For example, in interviews with those who had committed homophobic hate crimes, one researcher found that the perpetrators believed they were doing something that would be accepted by society. And while we should always be careful about comparisons to the Holocaust, scholars of that period, such as the insightful Wendy Lower (author of “Hitler’s Furies”), have found widespread permission-taking by those inspired by violent rhetoric to commit heinous acts under the delusion that their actions would be welcomed.

No, the president did not pull the trigger. But presidents clearly have a responsibility to set the tone and condemn, not condone, racism and violence.

Chris Morehouse, Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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