But in calling upon “our nation” to condemn these poisonous forces “in one voice,” he only underscored how unwilling he has been to do that on his own.
This, after all, is the same president who did not hide his amusement when a supporter at a May rally in Panama City, Fla., called out “shoot them” in response to one of his diatribes about “these people” coming over the border illegally.
“Only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement,” the president said in tones of affirmation for such a twisted mind-set. “Only in the Panhandle.”
That is the unfiltered Trump. We see him over and over, juicing conspiracies and fear among his most devoted supporters, reveling for hours in their adoration.
The less authentic version appeared Monday in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room. He strained for just under 10 minutes to get out the words that had been written for him on a teleprompter.
Though his remarks had been carefully scripted, there was a malfunction somewhere, either in his brain or on the screen in front of him, or possibly both. Trump closed by asking God to “bless those who perished in Toledo,” a city 150 miles from where nine people died early Sunday, when the sound of gunfire interrupted a summer night in a peaceful neighborhood of restaurants and bars.
In his speech Monday, Trump blamed video games and social media and “the glorification of violence in our society.”
But when it comes to the instruments with which that glorification is translated into tragedy, he offered syntactically challenged imagery pulled from the talking points of the National Rifle Association: “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”
Trump did not even go so far as he had suggested he would in a tweet earlier in the day, when he mentioned the possibility of rallying Democrats and Republicans behind strong background checks on purchasers of firearms.
As it happens, bills to expand federal background checks on gun sales and extend the review period to 10 days, from three, were passed in February by the House. They are sitting in the Senate awaiting action, though none is likely, given that the White House has threatened to veto.
In his tweet, Trump raised the possibility that he might be willing to consider tighter background checks — a sensible move to make sure that guns are not finding their way into the hands of dangerous people — if it could be combined with immigration legislation.
Thus, even as Trump acknowledges that new gun laws could save lives, he is willing to hold those lives hostage to his border wall.
Authorities have yet to name the motives of the two young men alleged to have been responsible for the carnage over the weekend.
But in the case of the one who allegedly opened fire in an El Paso Walmart, there is a manifesto linked to him and written shortly before that echoed some of the hateful themes that Trump has sounded about an “invasion” of immigrants. Would Trump have been blaming video games and social media if the ideology the shooter espoused was that of the Islamic State?
While it is true that white supremacy has festered in the fetid corners of the Internet, and represents a darker side of the American character that goes back to the nation’s earliest years, Trump has brought racism into the mainstream. He has glorified intolerance, even made it sound like a form of patriotism.
Whether this kind of toxicity is what exists in the president’s heart, or is merely a cynical play to gin up his base, is irrelevant. What is important is that Trump has proved himself incapable of changing. He is not the person to pull a shattered, bewildered country together and unite it behind a renewed sense of purpose.
“America will rise to the challenge,” he said near the end of Monday’s speech. “We will always have and we always will win.”
Winning. That is one of Trump’s favorite words. It is how he defines everything he does. Shortly after his address, the cable networks updated the death toll from the weekend’s mass shooting from 29 to 31.