Immediately following two horrific mass shootings – one in El Paso, Texas, and another within a matter of hours in Dayton, Ohio – the blame game started.
For many, culprit No. 1, of course, is President Donald Trump. Presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said: "There is a complicity in the president's hatred that undermines the goodness and the decency of Americans, regardless of what party. To say nothing in a time of rising hatred, it's not enough to say that, 'I'm not a hatemonger myself.' If you are not actively working against hate, calling it out, you are complicit in what is going on." Booker used to be mayor of Newark, New Jersey, where in 2013 – his last year as mayor – the city's murder rate was the third-highest of all large U.S. cities. Kind of difficult to pin that on Trump, who did not take office until January 2017.
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke also blamed Trump, whom he agreed is a "white nationalist." O'Rourke said: "We've got to acknowledge the hatred, the open racism that we're seeing. ... We also see it from our commander in chief, and he is encouraging this. He doesn't just tolerate it, he encourages it." Indeed, a 2018 Quinnipiac University poll found that 55 percent of voters believe "President Trump has emboldened people who hold racist beliefs to express those beliefs publicly."
Advertisement - story continues below
But is this true?
University of Pennsylvania political science professor Daniel Hopkins and research assistant Samantha Washington, the authors of a working paper, admitted that they began their research expecting it to corroborate what Trump critics and they themselves believe: that Trump is "normalizing" the expressing of racist attitudes and that white racism against blacks and Hispanics is up. "As a political leader, Donald Trump has used racist rhetoric to build political support," they wrote. "In his campaign and first few years in office, Donald Trump consistently defied contemporary norms by using explicit, negative rhetoric targeting ethnic/racial minorities. Did this rhetoric lead white Americans to express more prejudiced views of African Americans or Hispanics, whether through the normalization of prejudice or other mechanisms?"
But the authors, surprised by their own conclusions, stated, "Our findings contradict both hypotheses, as we primarily found declining prejudice and racial resentment, and certainly no increases." Hopkins wrote: "Measuring prejudice is notoriously difficult, but we were able to draw on a panel survey, which has posed questions about political issues to the same group of people 13 times since late 2007. Our panel asked the respondents – a representative sample of about 500 white Americans – to rate different racial groups' work ethic and trustworthiness repeatedly. ...
"On average, anti-black prejudice dropped sharply among whites, from ... just before the 2016 election to ... two years later. ... That marked the lowest level of anti-black prejudice since we first conducted this study in late 2008. Prejudice against Hispanics also dropped. ... In both instances, declines were larger among Democrats, but they appeared among Republicans, too."
Advertisement - story continues below
The media and Dems focused more attention on the El Paso shooting than on the Dayton shooting. Certainly, the El Paso shooting was more deadly – 22 dead compared to nine in Dayton. But the key reason Trump critics paid more attention to El Paso is that the shooter posted an online manifesto that he apparently wrote, in which he complained of a "Hispanic invasion," "open borders" and "free health care for illegals." But he also wrote that he had these feelings years before Trump and that any attempt to link his actions to Trump would be "fake news." The manifesto read: "Some people will blame the president or certain presidential candidates for the attack. This is not the case."
Of less interest to the blame-Trump crowd are the words of the Dayton shooter, a self-described "leftist" who in June 2019 tweeted: "I want socialism, and i'll not wait for the idiots to finally come round to understanding." In November 2018, he tweeted: "Vote blue for gods sake." He posted "F–- John McCain" on the day of Sen. McCain's death. In December, he tweeted: "This is America: Guns on every corner, guns in every house, no freedom but that to kill." On the day of the Parkland, Florida, shooting, he sent a tweet to Ohio Sen. Robb Portman: "hey rob. How much did they pay you to look the other way? 17 kids are dead. If not now, when?" He also made clear he favored Sen. Elizabeth Warren over Sen. Kamala Harris in the 2020 Democratic presidential race. He tweeted: "Nahh, but only cuz Harris is a cop – Warren I'd happily vote for."
By all means, let's examine these killers' motives and means so we can reduce the possibility of more such shootings and reduce their lethality. But blaming Trump is lazy, dishonest and bigoted.