It’s been over two days since four people were shot dead in a Nashville, Tennessee Waffle House restaurant — and countless others were saved by an act of extraordinary heroism — and President Donald Trump hasn’t talked or even tweeted about any of it. Why not?
One reason could be that he’s just overwhelmed by the sheer number and frequency of mass shootings, of which there have already been at least 70 during this still-young year. Hundreds of Americans have died in hundreds of mass shootings since Trump took office; with so many deaths, we can’t expect the president to speak after every fresh slaughter, can we?
We certainly can when there are exceptional circumstances. And what could be more exceptional than the way in which Waffle House customer James Shaw Jr. tackled and disarmed the shooter, tossing his AR-15 assault rifle safely out of reach? Shaw was hailed in the Tennessee State Capitol, where lawmakers honored him with a rousing standing ovation. He further cemented his heroic reputation by starting a crowdfunding campaign for victims’ families that raised over $100,000 in 24 hours.
All this, and not a word from the president.
Within a day of the murder of 26 parishioners at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Trump lamented the loss of so many “great people,” while predictably insisting the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history “isn’t a guns situation” but rather one of “mental health.” He also — and this should really raise eyebrows when contrasted with his silence on Shaw — praised an armed bystander who shot and wounded the perpetrator, even though that “good guy with a gun” acted after 26 people had already been shot dead.
Within hours of the nation’s most recent school mass shooting, in which 17 students and staff were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day, Trump tweeted his “prayers and condolences” while praising law enforcement, first responders and doctors during a visit to South Florida two days later.
Not this time.
While Trump supporters struggle to explain the president’s silence in the wake of the Waffle House tragedy, some critics have noticed a pattern: When white supremacists, white nationalists or other right-wing or anti-federal government types commit crimes, they’re ignored or downplayed — especially if the victims are people of color. Meanwhile, when Muslims, undocumented immigrants or other people demonized by Trump and his ilk commit crimes, Trump swiftly and mercilessly calls for their heads, sometimes quite literally.
This pattern was evident earlier this year when it took Trump three weeks to address a serial bomber who was killing and maiming people of color in central Texas, and it was evident in the wake of last year’s deadly Charlottesville attack when he blamed “both sides” for the violence and insisted there were “some very fine people” among the neo-Nazis and white nationalists whose beliefs and rhetoric provoked the attack. The pattern repeats itself in so many of Trump’s policies and actions that defy reality, like shifting the focus of counter-extremism programs to target only Islamist extremism despite the fact that right-wing terrorists — and armed toddlers — kill more people in the United States annually than do radical Islamists.
This pattern has a name, and that name is racism. It’s not only, or even primarily, about race, however. It’s about harnessing the desperate energy of a vast and growing segment of Americans who are suffering under the absolute and relative decline of the United States, and who blame outsiders — ideological, racial, religious and national — for their woes. To those who know what to listen for, Trump’s silence in the face of Nashville’s tragedy and heroism is no silence at all. It screams with all the collectively misguided fury of the Angry White Men who voted for him, and as they say down in Texas, “you’ve got to dance with the one that brung ya.”