President Donald Trump’s latest evidence that the media is treating him unfairly: Headlines didn’t blame President Barack Obama for the Charleston church shooting, as he’s been blamed for the pipe bomb mailer.
“I was in the headline of the Washington Post — my name associated with this crazy bomber, ‘Trump bomber’ or something,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News aired on Monday. He elaborated, “They didn’t do that with President Obama with the church — the horrible situation with the church.”
Where does one even begin with this?
The pipe bomb mailer, as best as we can tell, really was motivated by his political support for Trump; that’s why he mailed pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and Trump critics across the country. The suspect’s social media posts were very supportive of Trump and downright threatening and vitriolic of Democrats as well as Republicans who were critical of Trump.
It would be one thing if that were the whole story. Political movements, even benign ones, can attract all sorts of extremists. Can the movements really be blamed for that?
In this case, though, Trump has actively encouraged political violence.
One of many examples: When protesters were showing up at Trump’s campaign rallies, he said in February 2016, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell. I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise.” Trump not only promoted violence; he said he would pay for the legal fees involved.
Trump has also encouraged the extremists on his side, or at least done little to discourage them. In 2017, neo-Nazis and white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, and credited Trump for emboldening them. They clashed with anti-racism protesters, resulting in a death and several injuries when a Nazi sympathizer rammed a car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters.
Trump responded to all of this by remarking that there were “some very fine people on both sides” — a refusal to condemn the literal neo-Nazis and white supremacists at the rally, even after one of them killed someone.
There is no comparable equivalent for Obama and the Charleston church shooting. Simply put, the first black president did not himself encourage the Charleston shooter, a self-described white supremacist who killed nine black people at a predominantly black church.
Even still, the Obama administration did, in fact, accept some culpability for the shooting. In particular, the Justice Department and FBI acknowledged a lapse in the gun background check for the Charleston shooter — leading agents to overlook an admission to illicit drug possession, which should have prevented the shooter from buying a gun. He later used that same firearm in the church shooting.
“[T]he bottom line is clear: Dylann Roof should not have been able to legally buy that gun that day,” FBI Director James Comey said at the time, acknowledging the matter will be investigated further. He added, “We are all sick that this has happened. We wish we could turn back time, because from this vantage point everything seems obvious, but we can’t.
“What we can do is make sure that we learn from it, get better, and work to ensure that we catch everything.”
Maybe Trump could embrace some of that humility today.