Perhaps the most ironic moment in President Trump’s recent State of the Union address was when he introduced relatives of Gerald and Sharon David. The Davids, Trump explained, were murdered in their Reno, Nevada-home by a Salvadoran man in the country illegally. Watching the whole thing unfold felt like taking part in an act of national bad faith. On one hand, it would be callous not to sympathize with the tragic plight of the David family. Yet, as we all looked at the daughter and granddaughter, we risked complicity in Trump’s opiating xenophobia. Build my wall, the President warned, or you too could be murdered by some brown-skinned marauder. In presenting this family’s tragedy as an emblem for his misguided wall, Trump crossed the line from over-reaching politician to heartless demagogue.
I suspect I wasn’t alone in recalling, as I listened to Trump, 1930s Nazi propaganda posters depicting Jews as murderous, child-eating demons. Later in the speech, my flesh nearly crawled off my body when the President echoed Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,” noting gravely that “walls work and walls save lives.” His speech, vacillating awkwardly between Trumpian belligerence and feints at compassion, made me want to take a shower.
A few days after the State of the Union, I watched HBO’s Song of Parkland documentary about the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Here again I was struck by irony: Year after year, we see another high school, church, or university shot up by a native-born man with a shitload of guns—yet we fume and fuss over the threat of illegal aliens. Mass shootings in America are overwhelmingly the work of men, more specifically white men. According to Statista.com between 1982 and 2018, 103 of the 107 mass public shootings were perpetrated by men—60 of those were white. That’s 56 percent. Given that reality, it would have been more appropriate for Trump to introduce survivors from Parkland or Las Vegas and call for, say, a federally funded study into why white men are so violent in the US. Or an examination of how easy access to guns allows sociopathic males to realize their darkest fantasies. Hell, he could have gone really nuts and called for better regulating the 393 million guns in America. That would have been some State of the Union Address.
Fear the Hordes, Ignore the Truth
Scapegoats, of course, allow us to over-simplify a problem and deflect culpability away from ourselves and the culture with which we identify. No doubt, people who haven’t even entered the country yet are the ultimate, voiceless scapegoats. The reality is this, though: For decades our culture has avoided the painful truth that too many men are inclined toward violence—whether as a result of mental illness, disaffection, or isolation. Give those men easy access to guns like AR-15s with high-capacity magazines and you have not just the possibility of violence but the certainty. Demonizing—or even scrutinizing—white men between 18 and 49, the profile most associated with mass public shootings, won’t win many political points in this environment, though. So instead we gaze sorrowfully at the David family while Trump leverages their trauma to incite fear of hordes massing at the border.
Meanwhile, as we fulminate about invaders, somewhere in Arizona or Michigan or New Jersey a bitter and lonely young white man sits in his bedroom polishing his legally purchased Bushmaster and dreams of shooting up his school.