Jeffrey Goldberg: He’s getting worse
It was a strange speech, with Trump sticking closely to prepared remarks and uttering words—malice, barbaric, cruelty—that are unusual for him. He spoke from the Diplomatic Reception Room, the same place where he spoke after the Charlottesville violence, trying to clean up his widely condemned comments.
Yet Trump complicated his call for Americans to speak with one voice against white supremacy by also blaming a slew of other factors for the shootings. In an early-morning tweet today, Trump blamed the press for mass shootings, and in his remarks at the White House, he spent more time talking about the internet and social media, video games, and mental illness than he did about racist violence. In doing so, he largely missed, or was distracting from, the point. It’s like a physician diagnosing a sucking chest wound, and then offering some aspirin and recommending exercise to a patient.
Of the other causes Trump named, some stand up to scrutiny and others do not. Consider mental illness. “We must reform our mental-health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment but, when necessary, involuntary confinement,” he said. “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.” Some mass shooters are mentally ill, but scholars have found little correlation between mental illness and violence, and tightening laws around the mentally ill and guns has had, at best, small effects in the past.
Trump largely danced around the issue of guns per se, blaming other factors, as he has in the past. In the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, school massacre, he heralded the passage of new laws, as well as an executive order banning bump stocks. “Republicans and Democrats have proven that we can join together in a bipartisan fashion to address this plague,” Trump said today. “Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside.” But the persistence of attacks even after these changes demonstrates the challenge, and as the president knows, Republicans have repeatedly blocked further action, including expanded background checks, which is wildly popular with voters.
Trump devoted as much time to “gruesome and grisly video games” today as he did to white supremacy, but as my colleague Ian Bogost writes, the evidence about links between real-life violence and video games is shadowy at best.
Adam Serwer: The most dangerous American idea
Trump is on firmer ground talking about the internet. “We must recognize that the internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts,” he said. “We must shine light on the dark recesses of the internet and stop mass murders before they start.”
Scholars of extremism broadly agree that the internet is a powerful vector for encouraging extremism, including its most violent forms. It is not clear, however, what Trump recommends be done about the internet. Political campaigns have had some success in pressuring private companies. Yesterday, after the El Paso shooter’s manifesto appeared on the website 8Chan, the hosting company Cloudflare announced that it would no longer support the site. But any government campaign risks running into First Amendment issues.