On the same day that a white supremacist shot and killed 21 people at a shopping center in El Paso, Texas and a gunman in Dayton, Ohio shot and killed nine people in the city’s busy downtown, Donald Trump crashed a wedding at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey. He smiled and posed for photos with the bride and groom, offering his familiar thumbs up. (It’s almost too on the nose to note that he was greeted by chants of “USA! USA!”) The president’s only public response to the violence of the weekend had been a few tweets calling the shootings “terrible” and “tragic” along with the standard “thoughts and prayers.” Otherwise, his Twitter feed was his usual steady diet of self-aggrandizement.
On Monday morning, a few hours after he proposed coupling “strong background checks” with “desperately needed immigration reform”—the latter of which we know from Trump’s own words and policies means the sort of violent exclusions that the El Paso gunman also so keenly wanted—Trump gave a wooden and perfunctory speech in which he pretended to care about racism, a spectacle that would be laughable if the circumstances wren’t so tragic.
“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy,” he said, calling them “sinister ideologies.” He continued: “Hate has no place in America,” then called out the “dark recesses of the internet” that have enabled these “heinous crimes.”
Trump has been joined in this meaningless parade of empty rhetoric by other Republicans who have for two years ignored his central role in fomenting violence. On Sunday afternoon, his daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump tweeted, with no sense of self-awareness or perhaps just a clear disregard for her own place in her father’s administration, “White supremacy, like all other forms of terrorism, is an evil that must be destroyed.”
Others had clearly received the same messaging script: Senator Ted Cruz called the shooting a “heinous act of terrorism and white supremacy.” His fellow Texan Senator John Cornyn wrote, of the El Paso shooter, “His twisted vision will not succeed.” Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas wrote that “white supremacy has no place in this world.” Earlier, he had blamed mass shootings on “sick and lonely men” who “have decided this is how they will vent their frustration.” Senator Lindsay Graham wrote on Saturday that it’s “time to more than pray.”
These denunciations of white supremacist violence are hollow. This is obvious, and has been obvious for years. They are merely a nod to decorum. The president, by virtue of the office, must give a speech to “heal” the nation, even as he stokes white supremacist violence and further encodes it into our laws. This is a cyclical joke—we saw the same calls for the president to act presidential following lethal white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and his own racist attacks against his political enemies, from Ilhan Omar to Elijah Cummings.
The fact that a host of elected officials and Republican ghouls continue to subscribe to the magical thinking that they and Trump can somehow make things right by denouncing the very ideology that both elevated their party and Trump to the presidency and has animated every choice he’s made since he took office is laughable. But the problem goes much deeper and beyond our current president—the El Paso gunman, after all, made a point to note that his beliefs predated Donald Trump’s ascendance.
White supremacist violence has been at the core of our country since before its founding, a thread that continues to this day with the racist, nativist ideology of the Republican party, one that the Democrats have been unable to effectively counter (and too often have supported). There’s no speech or resolution denouncing white supremacy that course corrects decades of Republicans—and Democrats—stoking racist hatred about supposed immigrant “hordes” radically remaking the United States. The people with power in this country have made their choice—over and over again. And we are all living through the consequences.