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Trump and Tragedy: From Las Vegas to New York City to Sutherland Springs

The president "is batting zero for three in taking meaningful action to confront the tragedies of the last six weeks, unless reducing funding for mental health counts as meaningful action"

vegas vigil

Dozens of people attend a vigil remembering the 59 people killed in Sunday's shooting in Las Vegas and calling for action against guns on October 4, 2017 in Newtown, Connecticut. The vigil, organized by the Newtown Action Alliance, was held outside the National Shooting Sport Foundation and looked to draw attention to gun violence in America. Twenty school children were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown on December 14, 2012. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

"The essence of tragedy is killing eternity." —Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, Prologue

Events of the last six weeks have given us the opportunity to see how creatively President Donald Trump can respond to violent attacks—attacks that were similar in that lots of people were killed and injured, but different in how DJT responded to each of them. 

The first attack took place in early October in Las Vegas, Nevada. Six hours after the attack, DJT sent his condolences to “the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting” and described the act, committed by an American citizen, as an “act of pure evil.” In describing the shooter, DJT said the shooter was “a sick demented man” whose “wires are screwed up.” Since the attacker used a variety of firearms, DJT was presented with an opportunity to discuss the role firearms play in the United States where more than 30 people a day are killed by guns. When asked about that, he said that the U.S. would “be talking about gun laws as time goes by.” He did, however, somewhat inexplicably, say of the event: “What happened is, in many ways, a miracle. The police department, they’ve done such an incredible job. And we’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes on....” He was less reserved in addressing the attack four weeks later in New York City. Unlike his response to Las Vegas, he saw no reason to wait with taking action with respect to the massacre as “time goes on.” He acted immediately. 

The New York City perpetrator was a green card holder from Uzbekistan. And the fact that he was an immigrant was seized on by DJT with his first tweets about the attack. Unlike his belief that it was too soon to discuss gun legislation, following a slaughter enabled by guns, he had no reluctance to address the fact that the New York city killer was an immigrant. In a tweet he said: “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this.” What part of the New York City tragedy suggests that some would favor viewing the tragedy through a politically correct lens is not explained. And since there are many more gun deaths in the United States committed by United States citizens than by immigrants, it is not clear how DJT’s extreme vetting will reduce the number of terrorist attacks that take place in the United States. 

The recent killings in the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, evoked a different response from DJT. Whereas the Las Vegas tragedy was “an act of pure evil” perpetrated by a “a sick demented man” whose “wires are screwed up” and the New York City killing was effected by a legal immigrant, DJT said of the Texas massacre that this “isn’t a guns situation” but a “mental health situation.” And when DJT uttered those words, he had already taken steps to address the mental health issue that he believes triggered the Texas shooting. He did it when he submitted the budget for FY 2018 in May 2017. In that budget he proposed cuts for the federal mental health and substance abuse treatment agency by $400 million, and the Community Mental Health Services block grant by $116 million. According to the American Psychological Association, that proposed budget: “threatens critical health, scientific research, and education programs that contribute to the social safety net for millions of Americans.” So you could say that DJT is batting zero for three in taking meaningful action to confront the tragedies of the last six weeks, unless reducing funding for mental health counts as meaningful action. 

Although DJT’s comments dominated the news following these events, he was not the only commentator to make news. Following the Texas shooting, Greg Abbott, that state’s governor, went on “Outnumbered Overtime” on Fox News to suggest we should be happy that things are not worse than they are. He said: “Remember, even though we’re facing these severe tragedies—whether it be what happened in Sutherland Springs, or what happened in Las Vegas, or what happened in New York last week, or what happened in London earlier this year—we have acts of evil taking place, and because they are close in time to us right now, we think this is something heavy right now. But put this in the context of history. Look at what happened with Hitler during the horrific events during that era and Mussolini and go back in time before that to the earlier ages, the Middle Ages, when people committed horrific crimes, and when you go back through the history of the Bible, there was evil that took place from earliest stages of the Bible to post-New Testament, so evil is something that has permeated this world.” The fact that the United States has not yet descended to the levels of Hitler’s Germany, notwithstanding the licenses to hate that DJT has issued to his followers, is of no comfort to most citizens. Someone should mention that to Greg Abbott. 

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Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com

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