Donald Trump ventured today to two American cities that are suffering intense emotional pain.
He went to Dayton, Ohio and then to El Paso, Texas, communities ripped to pieces by gunmen. One’s motives remain unclear. The other one, the young man who killed 22 people in El Paso, was fueled by hatred of Mexican immigrants. He drove to El Paso from North Texas intent on, as he told police, “killing as many Mexicans as possible.”
Donald Trump ventured to those cities today, ostensibly to lend support and comfort. It remains to be seen whether this president has a hint of compassion anywhere within him.
Indeed, he fired off Twitter messages blasting Democrats, the media, and assorted critics who said he was unwelcome, particularly in El Paso. Why? The Latino community has been subjected to insults and invective from Trump, and millions of Americans believe the shooter was inspired by Trump’s angry rhetoric aimed at the Latino community.
So … he came to Texas after visiting Ohio. Is this man capable of performing his unwritten role as Comforter in Chief?
I doubt it strongly.
I am thinking at this moment of a previous president who was damn good at talking exclusively to those who were in pain. Indeed, there have been many presidents who’ve exhibited that skill. President Reagan showed it when the Challenger exploded on liftoff; President George W. Bush stood among the rubble at Ground Zero and rallied the nation with the bullhorn and his arm draped around the shoulder of a firefighter; President Obama went to the church in Charleston, S.C., where a racist gunman killed nine worshipers and led the congregation in singing “Amazing Grace.”
I want to talk about President Clinton. He had his Comforter in Chief moment, too, in April 1995 when the bomber blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The president spoke to us from his heart. He called on our better angels.
I am reminded at this moment of an anecdote that former U.S. Rep. Larry Combest once told me. Combest was a West Texas Republican congressman who opposed Bill Clinton repeatedly on policy matters. He voted to impeach the president in 1998.
However, Combest held a healthy respect for Clinton’s ability to hear you. Combest told me that the president possessed a unique skill of talking to someone as if the two of them were the only people on Earth. Combest said, “I know because he did that with me … in the White House.”
We need that skill now from the president of the United States. We do not need a thin-skinned individual who cannot cease sending Twitter taunts to his foes, or cannot stop dividing this nation along racial and ethnic lines.