After the tragic mass shooting in El Paso, Roman Catholic Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio lashed out at President Donald Trump.
In a series of now-deleted tweets, he called Trump “a very poor man” and urged him to “stop hate and racism, starting with yourself.”
His response was emotional; the senseless killings first in El Paso and then in Dayton, Ohio, have left many people in a state of confusion and anger.
But another screed squarely blaming Trump for the attacks is the last thing Americans need right now, especially from a religious leader.
Hurling such accusations, however founded they may be, fuels hatred at a time when emotions are extremely high.
And it allows all of us to shirk responsibility in contributing to the culture and environment that has made these kinds of mass shootings not only possible but increasingly common: a culture of narcissism, nihilism and death.
Another Catholic leader, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia — who, not coincidentally, presided over the funerals of several victims of the Columbine massacre 20 years ago — described it this way: “The people using the guns in these loathsome incidents are moral agents with twisted hearts. And the twisting is done by the culture of sexual anarchy, personal excess, political hatreds, intellectual dishonesty, and perverted freedoms that we’ve systematically created over the past half-century.”
That’s a hard truth to swallow, and one plenty of people will disagree with, because it doesn’t allow for easy answers and patchwork policy solutions — ban “assault weapons,” fix mental health care, impeach Trump — as if these things alone (or even in combination) will provide the immediate and permanent solutions our broken world demands.
And it makes us all complicit — if not active participants — in what The New York Times’ Ross Douthat describes as “our late-modern anti-culture, our internet-accelerated dissolution of normal human bonds.”
It’s true some people bear more responsibility than others in fomenting our current environment. Political leaders, with their bully pulpits and millions of Twitter followers, have a greater obligation than you or I to police our words and actions.
The duty to show restraint begins at the top — Trump gets no absolution here — but its frequent absence in the president is not an invitation for other public figures, or even ourselves, to follow suit.
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Yet we accept it, even champion it, when it fulfills our own personal or political prejudices.
Consider that not one of Trump’s Democratic political challengers has resisted the opportunity to use the president’s real or imagined role the tragedy as a means to raise money and score political points.
The brother (and also the campaign chairman) of Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro went so far as to tweet the names and employers of people in his district who had donated the legal maximum to Trump’s re-election campaign. It appears to be an effort to link them to the El Paso shooting — and let’s be honest, to generate harassment of and potentially other hardships for them.
That sounds like something Trump and his minions would do: reduce people to the lowest common denominator. Ally or enemy. Criminal or “very fine” person. Convenience or inconvenience.
That sounds like a world, as Chaput writes, that “markets violence,” promotes “selfishness and greed,” and enshrines “certain kinds of killing” in law.
In that sense, Trump isn’t the cause of the “dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred” as Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson would have it. That force has been building for decades on social media, in Washington, in the troubled minds of disaffected people all over the country.
Trump is just its current champion, its low-hanging fruit.
The world the cultivated the El Paso and Dayton, and Gilroy and Tree of Life and Charleston shooters existed before Trump.
Immediately removing Trump from the equation wouldn’t stop it or even slow it down.
And without profound cultural transformation that revolutionizes the way we perceive and treat every human being — from birth to natural death — it will continue to flourish after he is a distant, ugly memory.