Over the weekend, a white man with a semiautomatic rifle went on a shooting rampage at an El Paso Walmart, killing 22 people.
President Trump, who averred that we cannot let the victims “die in vain,” offered an idea for how to prevent future shootings: “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!”
It’s a shame about the deaths, in other words, but they never would have happened if immigrants didn’t keep trying to come here, and if Democrats would just let me stop them. “So, this atrocity,” as Nicole Hannah-Jones aptly summed up his view, “was caused by immigration.”
Having essentially blamed the victims for their own murders, the president was happily and enthusiastically acceding to what authorities think are the alleged killer’s specific demands.
“This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” says an anti-immigrant online manifesto that authorities think the accused gunman posted. It echoes the “invasion” rhetoric commonly employed by the president at his rallies and on Twitter. In fact, much of the language overlaps with that of the president and his supporters, including repeated entreaties to “send them back.”
The idea here is that some sort of bipartisan immigration reform would stop the epidemic of white-supremacist violence in the United States. But of course that makes sense only if you believe that racist killers have a legitimate complaint — that we shouldn’t have Latino immigrants, and that, therefore, they do bear some of the blame. (Never mind that people of Hispanic descent existed in El Paso long before that region was part of the United States.) This was the idea, too, behind Trump’s common warning, reiterated last month, that if migrants didn’t like the detention centers along the border, they could simply not come.
What’s worse, the president in this case seems to be holding the prospect of modest gun reform hostage to his and the online screed’s common demands. You want background checks? Let me stem the “infestation” first and we can talk. Democrats will blanch at such a devil’s bargain — a fact that Trump and Republicans will surely use to blame them for not wanting to prevent further violence. It’s not hard to imagine an I-told-you-so from the president after the next shooter posts a manifesto about “Great Replacement” theory and murders a dozen people. (As it happens, a senator from the accused shooter’s home state not-so-subtly alluded to that theory a couple months ago.) Although perhaps even this modest proposal is off the table after this morning’s tweet about it, since the president didn’t mention it in his later comments today.
As Jessica Winter forcefully showed last year, Trump frequently falls back on the rhetoric and psychology of an abuser: Look what you made me do! This was his excuse for worsening conditions for migrants and seeking punitive measures to dissuade them from coming. It’s not his fault. It’s never his fault. Which is another way of saying there’s nothing he can do to allay the circumstances he introduced himself.
It’s hard to imagine the manifesto’s author being any happier with the results of his campaign. His message — that the country is in danger of being lost in a wave of immigration — has been heard loud and clear by the man who very likely influenced his thinking in the first place, or at least supercharged it. What happens to migrants next is up to them, the president and the manifesto’s author agree. Don’t want to die? Don’t come.