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Is President Trump serious about bipartisan solutions to deadly, hate-driven shootings?

Is President Trump serious about bipartisan solutions to deadly, hate-driven shootings?
President Donald Trump speaks about the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, in Washington. (Associated Press)

For 10 minutes, President Donald Trump stood behind a White House podium and did what Americans have a right to expect from their top elected leader in a moment of national tragedy. He condemned the weekend’s massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left at least 30 of his countrymen dead. He expressed condolences for what he described as “monstrous evil" and assured the nation that “America weeps for the fallen.” He lashed out against “racist hate” and then proposed some potential “bipartisan” reforms, even cautioning that he was “open and ready to listen to all ideas that will actually work” to prevent such horrors from happening again.

It was solemn, it was dignified, it might even have been described as presidential. What it was not was especially convincing — not from a president whose own views of an immigration “invasion” run shockingly similar to the treatise posted online by the 21-year-old man who, authorities say, walked into a Texas Walmart on Saturday to kill a score of innocent people. That doesn’t make President Trump responsible for the disaffected gunman’s actions, but it does make them kindred spirits. People who lie down with white supremacists rise up with their slogans and all that. “I’ll never let you down,” is what the president told the NRA convention in Indianapolis four months ago.

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Some of the potential solutions the president offered Monday morning may well have merit. His condemnation of bigotry is welcome, if overdue. His observation that the internet has played a role is on point. He is correct that bipartisanship is required and that detecting mass shooters before they strike, “red flag” laws that keep firearms out of the hands of people judged dangerous, and directing federal authorities to put greater efforts into the domestic terrorism threat are all worthwhile. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. He also tossed out ideas like making it easier to involuntarily commit the mentally ill that could prove problematic. His concerns about violent video games are overstated given current research on the subject. The idea that the death penalty might make a difference is absurd. Texas and Ohio both have capital punishment.

But most worrisome of all is that this suddenly compassionate person is in sharp contrast to the “real” Donald Trump which is, literally, his handle on Twitter. The president’s tweets of the last 24 hours have included a promise to link gun control with “desperately needed” immigration reform (which would essentially reward the anti-immigrant Texas shooter), a condemnation of the press for inciting “anger and rage” (the White House being an irony-free zone) and a call for “strong background checks” despite threatening to veto such a bill when it passed the House in February. Is Mr. Trump going to pressure the Senate to do something serious about gun violence now? Doubtful.

President Trump has been the best thing the white supremacist movement has going for it. Stoking fear of darker-skinned people is his calling card. His incendiary quotes and social media postings have stoked white rage. Is the chief reason he could muster so much compassion in a speech written by someone else that Texas and Ohio are critical swing states in 2020? “Do something,” was what the crowd in the Oregon district of Dayton shouted at Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Sunday. The White House knows a narrative cue when they see it. The political calculation is that substance doesn’t matter, appearance is everything. A few token efforts like banning bump stocks after the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting provide sufficient cover.

Contrast Mr. Trump’s concerns, feigned or real, with his reaction to Baltimore homicides. Those 30 dead in Ohio and Texas? Charm City lost 38 in July. and it wasn’t even a record. But did Mr. Trump come here to mourn the dead or offer reforms? Did he make calls to governors and mayors? Did he “vow to act with urgent resolve?” Maryland isn’t a swing state. Most of the victims are not white. Baltimore’s murder tally doesn’t cause President Trump to grieve, it was a punch line, a prop he used to ridicule the local member of Congress, an African-American man, who happens to be investigating his administration. Apparently, Mr. Trump forgot to condemn the local congressmen in Dayton and El Paso for the criminal behavior of people in their districts. The president has had 31 months to prove he cares about gun violence. How could anyone take him seriously now?

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