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Parsing the President


17 shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. A US correspondent, Uncle Sam, unpicks President Donald Trump's response.

I am not going to start lecturing people about ‘what a tragedy’, or the damned stupidity of gun-ownership laws in this country, or wring my hands and weep. Time’s way past for all that junk. When a messed-up 19 year-old kid can buy an AR-15 semi-automatic perfectly legally, you just know that trouble’s bound to come, no matter what “Barbara” (and who the hell is she?) writes here a while back. There are about five million of these weapons in the States, and each one of them just ain’t necessary.

No child of his has been shot down in cold blood; he hasn’t the faintest idea of what he’s just said.

I just want to know: what is the President gonna do about it? After all, for the first time in years the US Congress has a clear majority – Republicans have 238 seats against the Democrats 193 in the House of Reprsentatives. With that kind of majority and the country’s feeling so enraged about the Florida murders, surely Trump could do something. But I think we all know what the answer to that is – he will squirm his fat ass a bit, and go back to playing at being the big man.

But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s give him a fair hearing. We already know what he said, so let’s take a look at those words and see.

The day after the mass shooting in Florida, The White House issued a ‘statement from President Donald J. Trump.’ His first words were “today I speak to a nation in grief. Yesterday, a school filled with innocent children and caring teachers became the scene of terrible violence, hatred, and evil.” So far, so good.

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Then he goes on and the lies – or perhaps semi-truths is better – start. “Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families.” Well, he maybe the President, but how the heck does he know that the “entire nation” is “praying”? Then he goes on to ruin everything by saying “we are here for you – whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain.” No child of his has ever been shot down in cold blood; he hasn’t the faintest idea of what he’s just said. What on earth can ease the pain of seeing your son or daughter go off to school and then be told they will never be coming home again? It is just bullshit to say “we are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also.” America is today more divided than it’s ever been since the Civil War. Trump should know that, better than most – it’s plain lies to pretend otherwise.

He goes on: “No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school.” Yup, we can all say Amen to that. But when you consider it, it’s just baloney. It all depends on what he means by ‘danger’. Yeah, sure, we can all dream of the day when bullying stops; when the cool kids leave the geeks alone; when the tormenting stops. Kids at US schools daily run a gauntlet of torture. So that phrase should be seen for what it is – just sentimentalising crap. If he’d said “no child, no teacher, should ever be in danger of being shot in an American school” maybe he would have hit the nail on the head. But that would have veered too close to signalling a policy change. And President Trump doesn’t want to make any policy change, and to hell with the 17 kids dead in Florida. Crocodile tears are what they get.

“In these moments of heartache and darkness, we hold on to God’s word in scripture: ‘I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you.'” God again. If God were listening to every prayer he’d be run off his feet. But – leaving aside all those Americans that aren’t Christian, or aren’t religious at all – then I suppose we can be grateful that one of the President’s speechwriters was quick off the mark with a relevant quote from the Bible .

America’s kids are right now probably the loneliest on the planet.

Then the President pulls out a real humdinger. He said: “I want to speak now directly to America’s children, especially those who feel lost, alone, confused or even scared: I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be. You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you. If you need help, turn to a teacher, a family member, a local police officer, or a faith leader. Answer hate with love; answer cruelty with kindness.” America’s kids are right now probably the loneliest on the planet. They know that there are 300 million guns in private hands in the country – heck, their family probably owns some of ’em. Many of them know that their family are screwed up and worried and get what solace they can from drink or drugs or both, with not much time to spend with them.

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Part of America’s problems are precisely what the President recommends: police who are ill-educated, who carry and use guns as a first-line defense, who shoot innocent people; ‘faith leaders’ who might be abusers or at best can only preach about the life hereafter; teachers who are harassed and under-paid and looked down on. Somehow I don’t see much comfort for the kids: they feel alone and, in truth, many of them actually are alone and feel isolated; why else are they so desperate to gather ‘friends’ from Facebook? If we want to know why Nikolas Cruz shot those kids in Florida, maybe we should look more deeply and not just write him off as insane. Trump seems to have already made up his mind that Cruz will be written off as out of his head – he said “we are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools, and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.” (My emphasis). He really does not know what he’s talking about here. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 1 in 25 American adults (that’s almost 10% of the population) “experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities”. How many of them have a gun in their jeans?

As things stand, he’s just another little guy who can’t believe his luck.

Trump continues: “We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life, that creates deep and meaningful human connections, and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbors.” What does that ’embrace the dignity of life’ actually mean? It sounds great, doesn’t it – but can you supply a succinct meaning?

Back in 2012 another loner shot and killed 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut. Since that date there have been 239 school shootings in the US, with 138 deaths and 300 people wounded. On average there have been five school shootings a month and more than 22 million American kids live in homes where there’s a gun.

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I ain’t a betting man normally, but I’ll wager anyone $10 to $1 that the end result of this shooting will be precisely the same as after all the others – tears, vigils, prayers and then back to normal. Which in America means another shooting sooner or later. Trump had the chance of really being a big man, a decisive President who set a new path for the States. He has sold his soul to the National Rifle Association, like so many other American politicians before him. The NRA spent more than $35 million in the 2016 election, by far the most generous donor. Being a Republican, I am ashamed to say that my guess is that very few of those dollars went to Hillary Clinton.

As things stand, Trump is just another little guy who can’t believe his luck. God help – a blessing is too much to be expected – America.