“Get the hell out of this country you disrespectful trash. Treason is death.” Read one message. Another stated “You’ll face Christ one day and I hate to say this but I will have no sympathy for you when you go to hell.”
These were messages to Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, Ohio, shortly after a visit from President Donald Trump in the wake of a mass shooting there that killed nine people. The Dayton Daily News reported last week that Whaley had extra security assigned to her because of death threats following Trump’s visit.
What was the transgression? Disagreeing with the president. Although even what happened there isn’t too clear. Trump and Whaley, along with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, visited survivors in a local hospital after the shooting, which occurred just hours after a rampage in El Paso, Texas, killed 22.
The visit with victims, by most accounts, went OK. Whaley and Brown had a news conference later that day, according to the Daily News, saying they lobbied Trump to support legislation passed by the U.S. House and yet to see the light of day in the Senate that would, among other things, expand background checks on firearm purchases.
Hard to say where the perceived slight came from, but it was enough for the president to take to Twitter and call Whaley and Brown’s news conference a “fraud.” Apparently, you can’t tell people you talked to the president about protecting citizens from mass shootings when the president is in your town to visit victims of a mass shooting.
Whaley, rightfully confused, later called the president a “bully and a coward” during a cable news interview.
The president soon forgot about whatever the spat was, but Whaley was left to reap the whirlwind of angry calls and social media comments — including the aforementioned death threats — the president’s Twitter cloud had stirred up. The Daily News couldn’t print many of them, due to the language used and horrific acts described in them.
Unfortunately, many Americans are used to this by now. The president steps into a delicate situation, throws out red meat and walks away as packs of fervent followers attack.
While such behavior is extremely reckless, there’s another lesson as it pertains to this specific instance.
After the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, there was an opportunity for the president to actually try to unite people, instead of further wedging the divide. Those communities, and indeed the nation, are still grieving and are, frankly, on edge. Loud noises in crowded places have caused people to stampede, fearing a gunman. A company is marketing backpacks for children that contain bullet-resistant material. The psyche of the country is in a fragile place, and who can blame anyone for being uneasy?
That’s when a leader steps in, and takes action; reminds us that we are one nation. That we are our brother’s keeper and that we will not only heal, but change for the better, because that’s what Americans do. This president, for whatever reason, doesn’t know how to begin on that path. He was, apparently, criticized, and that’s that. Time to torch that bridge and whatever happens, happens. He’s even started to back off support for the bill on background checks, likely in hopes that the horrors from El Paso and Dayton will fade from the public narrative as so often is the case.
Americans need to demand that not happen. They need to demand sensible reforms be pursued. And the country needs to demand better from its own. A mayor whose city suffered through a horrible tragedy shouldn’t be under the watch of a 24-hour security detail because she’s receiving death threats. If that’s what America has become, then every citizen should look in the mirror and ask what they need to do to change it.