Has our president at last realized that his repeated claims of an America under attack by "an invasion" of immigrants heading to the border — as opposed to Russians hacking our elections — are tearing at the fabric of our nation by stoking violence and mass shootings?
Don't bet on it.
The 21-year-old white man charged with driving 600 miles to open fire in an El Paso Walmart and killing 22 people wrote a four-page manifesto online — sounding just like Trump: "This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas," the gunman announced.
Trump didn't pull the trigger, of course. But our 45th president has mainstreamed hate speech. Until Monday, with his consistent refusal to reject white supremacy, he has embraced it. And the combined effect of his tweets, his rally speeches and his "good-people-on-both-sides" doubletalk has produced a polarization like none we've seen in this country since George Wallace's defiance of integration.
The weekend's shootings — especially El Paso's — don't stand in isolation.
There was Trump's defense of the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Va., where a young woman was killed as a man rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters. There was a bomber who made mail bombs in a van covered in pro-Trump and anti-Democrats messages. He sent explosives to Trump's political adversaries and prominent news media figures that Trump had mocked. There was the man who rampaged through a Pittsburgh synagogue after ranting online about "invaders."
It was Trump, after all, who called immigrants "animals" and "criminals." It was Trump who pushed the Obama birtherism lie. It was Trump who said you can do anything to women, even grope them, if you're a star. It was Trump who wanted four Democratic congresswomen of color to "go back" to their countries. It was Trump just last week who said a black congressman's district — Baltimore — was rat-infested. It was Trump, also last week, who tweeted that ANTIFA should be declared a terrorist organization, even as he had refused — until Monday — to disavow or criticise white supremacists.
But on Monday, Trump began talking a different, albeit not contrite, game. That change came after the weekend of back-to-back mass shootings — El Paso's and another in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, where a white 24-year-old wearing body armor shot and killed nine people — six black and three white, including his own sister. In high school, the man reportedly made a "hit list" threatening violence or sexual violence on fellow students — most or all of them girls.
Altogether in the two mass shootings, at least 31 people died. Another 52 were injured.
At the White House on Monday, our president read from prepared remarks on a teleprompter: "In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul."
It defies logic that this last sentence came from Donald Trump, the same guy who in a tweet about three hours before blamed the media: "The Media has a big responsibility to life and safety in our Country. Fake News has contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up over many years. News coverage has got to start being fair, balanced and unbiased, or these terrible problems will only get worse!"
Later in the White House, still reading from his teleprompter, Trump also blamed the Internet, video games and mental illness, and called for "red flag" gun laws. Yet even that meager suggestion of gun legislation is something of a red herring — a diluted version of what he suggested in another earlier tweet: "strong background checks."
Public polling shows widespread public support for universal background checks, and House Democrats, with some Republican support, passed a bill earlier this year to mandate federal criminal background checks on all gun sales. Trump, however, vowed to veto the measure if it reached his desk. It hasn't, of course. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to put the bipartisan House bill on the floor of the Senate for a vote.
Even worse, some of Trump's earlier tweets Monday hinted at using the El Paso and Dayton tragedies as something of a Trumpesque deal-starter: "We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain. ... Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform."
Read that again. "[P]erhaps marrying this [gun] legislation with desperately needed immigration reform."
Other countries don't have our gun violence problems. But they do have video games, they do have mental illness and most have tougher — much tougher — gun laws.
Most importantly, however, other countries don't have Donald Trump stoking every fiber of human mockery and hate.
If Trump were a real leader, he would publicly call out Mitch McConnell for refusing to vote on gun control measures already passed by the House. He would use his rally podium to condemn the anti-immigrant chants of "send her back" or his supporters cries of "shoot them." He would immediately end the concentration camps where immigrant children are being held separate from their parents.
This country cannot survive another Trump term. It may not survive the rest of his first term. In the past weekend alone, 31 people already haven't.