President Trump’s response to mass tragedies: Blame the victims

President Trump’s response to mass tragedies: Blame the victims
© Getty Images

In June 2017, following a terrorist knife and truck attack in London that killed seven people and injured 48 others, President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden says Roe v. Wade under attack like 'never before' On student loans, Biden doesn't have an answer yet Grill company apologizes after sending meatloaf recipe on same day of rock star's death MORE falsely tweeted that London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, had downplayed the attacks by telling the city “there is ‘no reason to be alarmed.’” (The mayor actually told Londoners not to be alarmed if they saw police activity on the streets.)

In September, after Category 5 Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Trump tweeted that Puerto Ricans were to blame for the island’s slow recovery. “Such poor leadership by the Mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico who are not able to get their workers to help.” 


And the day after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people and wounded more than a dozen others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida, Trump tweeted that the community and the high school students could have prevented the tragedy. “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again.”


As the saying goes, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, and three times is a pattern. This president is like the man who rushes up to a broken and bleeding pedestrian on the street and, without having witnessed the accident, berates him for crossing against the light. 

There is no way to know so soon after a mass shooting just what a school community should have concluded about the likelihood that a troubled teenager, a youth category not exactly in short supply, would casually walk into a high school and gun down as many people as he could. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in fact, took student safety seriously by receiving active shooter training from the Broward County Sheriff’s office.

Nor is there any way to predict whether reporting “red flags” to authorities about a given teenager would have made a difference. In fact, we know now that a disturbing comment posted last year on YouTube by “nikolas cruz” (“I’m going to be a professional school shooter”) was reported by a Mississippi man to the FBI, which investigated but apparently was unable to identify Cruz. It’s unclear what the FBI could have done to stop Cruz even if they had identified him. 

But none of that prevented Trump from blaming a school community, in the midst of unfathomable grief and suffering, for a tragedy that in all likelihood, it couldn’t have done anything to prevent. 

Trump has two default instincts. One instinct, regardless of circumstance, is to take credit for everything that is positive even if he had nothing to do with it, like the absence of fatal commercial airplane crashes under his presidency. The other instinct is to pre-emptively blame others for calamities for which he ought be held responsible. When it comes to stopping mass shootings, Trump has fought gun control legislation and his latest budget cut public funds for mental health treatment.

Regardless of his cruel tweets, Trump is being held responsible by the very victims he tried to blame. One of the most heart rending moments of these heart rending days was CNN’s interview with the mother of Alyssa Alhadeff, a student killed by Cruz, that left a CNN anchor in tears. “President Trump — you say, “What can you do?” You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands,” screamed an anguished Lori Ahadeff. “I just spent the last two hours putting [together] the burial arrangements for my daughter’s funeral who is 14.”

It’s a certainty that Trump will not do anything of the sort. In Florida and every other state, a 19-year-old cannot legally buy alcohol, but thanks in no small part to the National Rifle Association, for whom Trump will do anything, he can go into a gun store and legally buy an assault rifle. After Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the president will not find it so easy to tweet his way of responsibility for active shooter school killings by blaming the victims.

Gregory J. Wallance is a lawyer and former federal prosecutor and writer in New York. He is the author of the forthcoming “The Woman Who Fought An Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring,” available March 2018. Follow him on Twitter @gregorywallance.