President Donald Trump and Republican leaders are largely focusing their talking points following two mass shootings — including one in El Paso, Texas, in which the suspect may be charged with a hate crime — on everything but the obvious factors. They discussed video games, homelessness and social media. Largely left out: guns, and the rise of white nationalism and whether Trump’s racially divisive language factors into that.
Trump’s own FBI director has indicated that white supremacy-related domestic terrorism is on the rise. That rise has been frequently noted in the last few weeks as Trump has been escalating his anti-immigrant rhetoric into at times outright racism.
In an address Monday, Trump acknowledged the racial hatred apparently at play in the El Paso shooting by saying something he rarely does: “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” He made no connection between those things and his own language.
Most (but not all) Republican officials reacting over the weekend to two mass shootings are talking about everything else.
Here’s a sampling of high-profile Republican reactions over the weekend (more here):
- Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: “We’ve always had guns. We’ve always had evil. But what’s changed where we see this rash of shooting? And I see a video game industry that teaches young people to kill.”
- Sen. John Cornyn of Texas: “ [S]adly, there are some issues, like homelessness and these shootings, where we simply don’t have all the answers.”
- After Patrick cited a manifesto likely published online by the shooting suspect briefly cited “Call of Duty,” Fox News asked other lawmakers what they of video games’ influence, and people like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., were happy to channel the blame in that direction.
“When you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and other,” McCarthy said, adding that video games “dehumanize.”
That line of thought was particularly jarring for how much it overlooks in the broader debate. Video games may dehumanize, but pointing the finger at them gives an easy way out from acknowledging how Trump’s rhetoric dehumanizes its targets — most recently exemplified by his telling four minority congresswomen to “go back” and in describing Baltimore as “rat-infested.”
“Donald Trump, dumping on immigrants all the time,” Leonard Zeskind, author of a history of the white nationalist movement, told The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker, “creates an atmosphere where some people interpret that to be an OK sign for violence against immigrants.”
A notable exception to this was Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, son of a Cuban immigrant. Cruz spoke about the El Paso shooting in the context of racial hatred. But Cruz did not connect the dots, as many scholars are doing, to Trump.
Before Trump, talking about the motive of a mass shooter was something Republicans often preferred to do. Getting into a discussion of how the shooter might have twisted thoughts that made him use guns in a violent way steered the conversation away from gun control. Republicans want to do that less now.
At least, not if they want to stay an elected official in the Republican Party under Trump.
We’ve seen, very recently, how determined most Republicans are to avoid criticizing the president. I wrote this in July after his “go back” tweets, which most in the GOP were unwilling to label as racist: “It seems that most in the GOP have learned over the years that they have nothing to gain by speaking out against Trump, and plenty to lose — like their jobs.”
The list of Republican lawmakers who have openly and sharply spoken out against Trump’s rhetoric and are now retired is long — and growing longer by the day: former House Speaker Paul Ryan, former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, former Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and retiring Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama, to name a few.
Based on that, it’s not a great leap to think that many Republicans are avoiding having a full conversation about the rise of white supremacy, how Trump’s rhetoric has factored into that and how those things are tied into tragedies, in order not to get on the wrong side of Trump. The events of this weekend put that on display more clearly than anything else to date.