One thing I learned quickly after going on Twitter about four and a half years ago is that it’s never a good sign when the name of an American city starts trending. San Bernardino, Orlando, Parkland, Las Vegas – just to mention a few examples off the top of my head – and, over the past weekend, El Paso and Dayton in quick succession. The city names always trend for the same reason: there has been a mass shooting.
What happens next is also pretty much the same each time. There is a kind of unwritten script that has developed for these situations – a ritual that plays itself out on television and social media. The first step usually consists of public figures – most notably the President – sending out their condolences to the victims and their families. Sometimes these expressions of shared grief come across as heartfelt, sometimes they sound hollow and fake, especially when they are uttered by people who probably have never had a thought and a prayer to spare for anyone besides themselves.
Public speculations about the shooters and their motives are also part of this ritual, as well as calls for more gun control which are routinely answered with outraged calls of “too soon!” and accusations against the other side of politicizing a terrible tragedy. This past weekend, one shooting followed on the heels of another faster than people could even type “too soon.”
In the first thirty hours – as more people died while the families of the El Paso victims were still waiting in anguish for the names and the bodies of their loved ones to be released – various theories have been aired by various people concerning the reasons underlying the horrible events that have changed the lives of so many who were doing their back-to-school shopping at the mall or enjoying a night on the town.
In the context of the El Paso Walmart shooting, Donald Trump took a lot of heat for the fact that the perpetrator’s manifesto resembled his racist anti-immigrant rhetoric in a manner that is simply undeniable. Of course, his surrogates nevertheless scrambled to deflect, citing pure evil, mental health issues, video games, social media and the absence of prayer in schools as the root causes of what they like to present as an inevitable tragedy, much like a hurricane or an earthquake, and Trump’s statement on Monday morning included many of those well-worn talking points. But the mass shootings are not natural disasters. They are man-made and they all have one common denominator: they involve guns. A concise statement of this fact came from a somewhat unexpected source. Geraldo Rivera – usually a big fan of The Donald – tweeted the following: “Every nation has crazies-Ours are the only ones who have easy access to weapons of war.”
In his address to the American people, Donald Trump promised change, but he also stated his belief that “mental illness and hatred pulled the trigger, not the gun.” I am not optimistic that under the current administration change will come in the form of meaningful new gun legislation because NRA dollars still speak more loudly to people like Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell than the anguished voices of the people who are paying the price for the enormous profits made by the weapons industry. The only way to achieve change is to vote those people out.