President Donald Trump declared in his inaugural address that the “American carnage” some in the nation were facing “stops right here and stops right now.” At his rallies, he speaks to supporters as if he has lived up to his pledge to “make America great again.” But it’s hard to feel that the United States is “great again” when men born and raised here keep going on mass killing sprees.
Over the weekend, a gunman killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio. Another gunman killed 20 people in El Paso, Texas. The mass carnage was so horrific that the news media scarcely covered the fact that 18 people were shot in Chicago in the space of a few hours late Saturday night and early yesterday morning. A week prior, a gunman killed four people at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California. Earlier this summer, a gunman killed 12 people in Virginia Beach.
Outbreaks of mass carnage now seem as if they can strike anywhere, at any time. Last year, mass shooters killed five in Aurora, Illinois; 12 in Thousand Oaks, California; 11 at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, synagogue; five in Annapolis, Maryland; 10 in Santa Fe, Texas; and 17 in Parkland, Florida, among other episodes. In 2017, a gunman killed 26 in Sutherland Springs, Texas; and another killed 58 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Some Americans suspect that Trump’s extreme rhetoric is partly to blame––that he incites anxiety and hatred, incessantly injects conflict into national life, and brings out the worst in many.
I don’t know if that’s right. Perhaps no recent killer was influenced at all by Trump. Lots of mass shooters predate his tenure. It’s impossible to know for sure, so I don’t blame him. I do wish Trump would speak more responsibly just in case it would help. But we all know he won’t. He won’t restrain himself, even though he can’t know for sure if his words make the problem worse.
When it comes to carnage, he is unlikely to help in any way. How would he? I don’t know if studying gun violence would help, but it doesn’t matter. Trump lacks the focus to create policy solutions, let alone get them passed into law.
I don’t know if inspiring hope and optimism in a majority of Americans would help, but it doesn’t matter. Ronald Reagan could do that. But Trump can’t. I don’t know if being a staid, steady presence in the Oval Office would help, but it doesn’t matter. George H. W. Bush projected calm. But Trump is erratic and flamboyant. I don’t know if seeming to exude genuine empathy for victims would help anyone, but it doesn’t matter. Bill Clinton possessed that ability. But Trump lacks it. I don’t know if soaring oratory that appeals to America’s better angels would help. But it doesn’t matter. Barack Obama could give speeches like that. Trump is wooden when he delivers carefully written remarks. They don’t seem nearly as genuine as when he’s saying something nasty about someone.
Trump will run for reelection in 2020, despite how little he offers.
Americans should remember that when it comes to presiding over the nation in a time of tragedy, he offers less than all his modern predecessors. They should know that he’ll keep using the bully pulpit to stoke anxiety, fear, and bigotry, at the plausible risk of making American carnage more likely; that there is no reason to expect any improvements with time; and that judged against the words about carnage in his inaugural address, he is an undeniable failure.