Donald Trump, back on U.S. soil after nine days of disgusting leaders across the Middle East and Europe, finally showed up on Twitter this morning to halfheartedly denounce the brutal slaying of two men in Portland on Friday. He used the Presidential Twitter account, so you know he doesn’t really give a shit.
Why does he bother? I’m legitimately curious—does anyone involved actually feel better because the president took a 15 second break from shrieking at the TV to bang out a couple of faux-conciliatory sentences, probably because his aides made him? Do you know how many tweets he wrote about the “fake media” yesterday? FIVE. And that’s not even counting the additional tweets congratulating himself on his “successful” trip abroad, which was successful only in the sense that the world’s NATO leaders resisted the urge to pin him down and smother him with a pillow.
The country has seen a startling spike in hate crimes since Trump took office, with the Southern Poverty Law Center tracking more than 900 hate and bias incidents in the immediate aftermath of the election. The reason for this is clear: Hate and bigotry have taken up residence in the White House, emboldening extremists to vocalize and, in some cases, act on their beliefs in the form of violence. As Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC and editor of its quarterly Intelligence Report, told The Independent:
“Trump’s run for office electrified the radical right, which saw in him a champion of the idea that America is fundamentally a white man’s country,” said Mr Potok, citing as part of the problem the appointment to senior posts of retired general Mike Flynn, who has described Islam as a “malignant cancer” and tweeted that “[f]ear of Muslims is RATIONAL”, and Mike Pompeo who is close to some of the country’s “most rabid anti-Muslim extremists”.
Even if Trump isn’t personally to blame for the surge in hate crimes, his silence on Portland speaks volumes about just how concerned he is about curbing similar acts in the future. And why forcefully denounce white supremacy when a tepid call for prayer will do? After all, those white supremacists make up an important part of his base. It would be a pity to piss them off.
But not everyone agrees that these faint overtures of sympathy are a disingenuous waste of time. On Sunday, former CBS News anchor Dan Rather took to Facebook to implore Trump to acknowledge the slaying of Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Ricky John Best, the two men who were stabbed to death while attempting to stop Jeremy Joseph Christian from berating two Muslim women. Rather wrote:
I do not blame you directly for this incident. Nor do I think other people should. But what a President says, who he has around him, and the tone he sets can set the tone for the nation at large.
Perhaps Portland, Oregon is off your radar. It is, after all, a rather liberal place. It’s even a “sanctuary city.” But it is still an American city. And you are its President. Two Americans have died leaving family and friends behind. They are mourned by millions more who are also deeply worried about what might come next.
I hope you can find it worthy of your time to take notice.
And indeed, Trump decried the killings, sort of. He made his tweet; he performed his presidential duty. Is Rather satisfied? Probably not. Because what Rather is really asking for isn’t a mere acknowledgement of the victims and their families. He’s asking Trump to renounce who he is, to mutate his entire personhood into someone genuinely intent on snuffing out hatred.
This culture of violence, this radical intolerance which every day seems to gain strength, isn’t possible to absolve with a tweet. It’s an ethos embodied not just by Trump, but everyone with whom he’s surrounded himself. How can Trump, even for a tweet, pretend to condemn Christian’s actions when he exudes intolerance every day? For every jejune call for unity and peace, Trump lets rip a dozen angry outbursts; fiery recriminations condemning everyone from Muslims to Mexicans to the Fake Media.
Trump doesn’t find the incident in Portland “unacceptable.” The truth is, he doesn’t care. What good does it to do pretend that he does? While the victims’ families and the nation mourn another two lives lost to hatred, the best thing for Trump to do now, just this once, is stay quiet.