Don’t look to Trump for leadership after the Florida school shooting

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Richard Wolffe

They say there’s no one more optimistic than an American teenager. But now we’re teaching them how to save their lives from a gunman

This is no time to talk politics, we’re told by gun-loving conservatives.

This is a time for prayers, we’re told by Donald Trump.

“There really are no words,” we’re told by the local sheriff.

So it’s OK, everyone. We can get back to the latest blather about tax cuts for corporations or billions for a border wall. Those are the things that politics, and presidents, and words, can handle.

But if we can’t talk about saving the lives of our children, if our politics can’t keep our schools safe, if we can’t talk about the mass murder of innocence, then what on earth are we talking about? What’s the point of any politician if they can’t do this one simple thing: protect our youngest citizens?

If this was the eighth terrorist attack of 2018, don’t you think every member of Congress – not just Democrats – would bleat on about taking urgent action? If Isis-inspired gunmen had just mowed down 17 high school students in their classrooms, how long would it take before our president spoke in front of the nation’s TV cameras?

Instead, we’ll have to settle for a tweet. Because when we need leadership the most, there’s no point in raising your hopes with the man who watches Fox News all day inside the White House.

“My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting,” Trump wrote. “No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.

February 14, 2018

It’s so heart-warming to hear this from the man who promised to end “this American carnage” in his inaugural address. Of course, at the time he was talking about gang murders, just as he did in his State of the Union address last month.

He must have forgotten to mention school shootings with assault weapons, like the AR-15 used at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida. It was the same assault weapon used at the Sutherland Springs Church in Texas in November. It was the same assault weapon used in the Las Vegas massacre the month before that.

It’s as if no politician could talk about protecting airplane cockpits after 9/11 because all we could was pray and send our condolences.

There have been many attempts to tackle assault weapons like the AR-15. When Senator Diane Feinstein, the California Democrat, tried to do that in 2013, one month after the Sandy Hook school massacre, there were 60 “no” votes that killed the effort, including those of 15 Democrats.

Among those no votes was one Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, who told Fox News on Wednesday that now wasn’t the time to talk about gun control. “I think you can always have that debate,” he said. “But if you’re gonna have that debate about this particular incident you should know the facts of that incident before you run out and prescribe some law that you claim could have prevented it.”

Senator Rubio: Save yourself the trouble. You don’t need to know the facts because the last time you heard the facts, you voted against regulating the very gun that massacred all those schoolchildren at Sandy Hook. It’s so funny how you need to be 100% sure about the impact of gun control laws when you are prepared to throw any amount of legislation and spending at the far less deadly terrorist threat to the United States.

Rubio can get away with this nonsense now, even more than he could in 2013. There were 20 children killed at Sandy Hook and America was shocked to its core. There were 17 children killed in Parkland, and by next week we’ll all just pretend it was the cost of doing business.

Anyone who knows a school-age child will tell you that lockdown drills are more common than the duck-and-cover drills their grandparents practiced in case of nuclear war. We are now teaching our children what to throw at a gunman in a last-ditch attempt to save their lives. If that isn’t an abdication of our parental duties, it’s hard to know what is.

For the deeper, sadder truth is that something else is dying with each massacre in a school, church, night club, movie theater or at an open-air concert. And yes, with each gang bullet in Chicago too. What’s dying is the bright light of our teenagers’ confidence.

They say there’s no one more optimistic than an American teenager. That may always have been a gross generalization. But there aren’t many countries where kids are told they can grow up to be president, or a tech entrepreneur, a Nobel-prize winning scientist, or join the Peace Corps to fix the world.

Now we’re teaching them to throw their chairs if a shooter storms into their classroom.

We all just spent the last several days celebrating the snowboarding achievements of two 17-year-old Olympic champions: Chloe Kim and Red Gerard.

Now we’re mourning the senseless murders of Americans their age, at the hands of a gunman who was only two years older.

It’s at times like these that a normal president would step up to reassure the country of its values and take action to protect its citizens. But we don’t have one of those right now. This is the leader who took a whole week to say he was “totally opposed to domestic violence” after his staff secretary quit, amid accusations from his ex-wives of just that. Trump’s supposed condemnation came after he heaped praise on the guy for his job in the White House, wished him the best in his career, and suggested that he deserved “due process” against all these allegations.

Donald Trump doesn’t do moral values and he doesn’t do justice. That’s the cost of doing business with a man who wanted the death penalty for five teenagers known as the Central Park Five, and claimed they were guilty even after they were exonerated by DNA evidence.

Enough is enough is enough. If you care about our children, do something to protect them. If you want a politician who talks about our greatest threats, vote for someone who isn’t terrified of the National Rifle Association.

And if you want to make America great again, make our schools safe again.

  • Richard Wolffe is a Guardian US columnist

 

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