There’s been no shortage of calls for “thoughts and prayers," but a consistent trend emerges when it comes to how the president and elected leaders respond to national tragedy.
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On Sunday, terror struck in Sunderland Springs, Texas when a gunman opened fire during Sunday service at the First Baptist Church, killing 26 people, or roughly 7 percent of the tiny rural town's population. The shooting was the worst in Texas history, and the ninth since Donald Trump became president.
Trump, like those who have come before him, often addresses the American people following domestic attacks. An unfortunately common tradition given the frequency of violence, forged by past presidents, the message has historically been one of solace and love, a weary leader comforting a stricken nation.
Another far less noble tradition after mass violence is partisan entrenchment. Most Democrats and left-leaning advocacy groups call for immediate gun control while most Republicans and right-leaning groups defend the Second Amendment as an absolute right and say the root cause of such violence is a failing mental health system.. Republicans – who have controlled the House of Representatives since the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 – have successfully blocked any and all efforts for even modest gun control measures even after some of their own leadership were horrifically attacked during a recent baseball practice.
One month after the Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest in modern American history, Congress has done absolutely nothing. There's been no shortage of calls for "thoughts and prayers" but actual action that will keep deadly weapons out the hands of troubled individuals that seek to do harm to innocent people has been non existent.
In some regards, Trump's responses to mass violence, often delivered in tweets, differ little from standard Republican talking points. Trump often tows the party line, deflecting attention from the role firearms play in attacks and making the "good guy with a gun" argument.
But Trump seems particularly adept at exploited mass violence for primal political purposes. His statements are made through a lens of ethnicity so as to fit neatly into his narrative that – put bluntly — Muslims are violent, volatile and hell-bent on undermining western values.
When Trump suspects a Muslim terror attack, he promotes it intensely. This was clearly witnessed last week, when Trump called for the death penalty for the Muslim suspect in Halloween's New York City truck attack.
Such craven political statements sow mistrust and xenophobia among a citizenry whose political consciousness has been largely shaped by the legacy of the September 11 attacks. Trump's words, while often condemned by the media and top political figures, are politically advantageous.
The Pew Research Center found that terrorism was the second most important issue for Americans in the 2016 election. And while Trump has suffered dismal approval ratings throughout his short tenure, a July poll found a 60 percent approval rating for Trump's so-called "travel ban," which, through multiple iterations, has sought to prevent Muslims from immigrating to America.
Trump also frequently tweets about violence in Chicago using thinly veiled racist language. By broadly attacking a city plagued by violence in black neighborhoods, Trump further stirs up fear and signals allegiance to his many white supporters.
Trump consistently steers clear of accusatory, reckless language when reacting to violence perpetrated by white men, including after the Las Vegas attack, which incurred hundreds of injuries.
Trump has not offered responses to the high-profile killings by white men. The Charleston church shooting – perpetrated one day after Trump came down his shiny gold elevator to kick off his candidacy – saw no response from the then-candidate.
Trump was silent for days after the May stabbing attack by a man confronted for making racist and anti-Muslim remarks on a Portland, Oregon commuter train. And after the death of Heather Heyer at the hands of a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Trump famously said "both sides" were to blame for the violence.
By deemphasizing attacks by right-wing extremists and amplifying those from radicalized Muslims, Trump is spinning an inaccurate picture of terror in America today. According to The Investigative Fund, far-right plots and attacks outnumbered Islamist incidents by almost 2 to 1 over the last nine years. Despite the data, Trump froze federal funding for grants award to groups tasked with combating neo-Nazism and right-wing extremism.
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, reach out to your elected officials and tell them how you feel about gun control laws. Legislation doesn't move itself and this is an issue you're concerned about, lawmakers from the local to national level need to hear from you.
Gun policy that impacts your hometown is often determined on a local level, so make sure you are also registered to vote in local elections.