Photo courtesy of TIME magazine
Direction: it’s what we look for from our leaders when times of great tragedy leave us feeling lost and without hope. Sense: it’s what we hope for from our figureheads when senselessness strikes so profoundly. Unity: it’s what we crave in dangerous times as potentially the last bastion of security and comfort in a chaotic world. After the horrifying act of terror in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and hundreds wounded on October 1st, 2017, US president Donald Trump may have spoken of unity, but painfully, he did so in a particularly senseless and empty way: one that actually directs us away from each other, away from unity, and tragically, only toward greater division.
Senseless enough, perhaps, is the president’s marked failure to characterize the acts of October 1st as terrorism in his address. This, despite the Nevada state legal definition of terrorism encapsulating the Las Vegas massacre to a T:
NRS 202.4415 “Act of terrorism” defined.
- “Act of terrorism” means any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to:
(a) Cause great bodily harm or death to the general population; or
(b) Cause substantial destruction, contamination or impairment of:
(1) Any building or infrastructure, communications, transportation, utilities or services; or
(2) Any natural resource or the environment.
We know why this happens. We know why Trump intentionally misinforms the public here despite his very public and ongoing tirade against the “fake news” media. He knows that the word “terrorism” must be reserved for the Islamic extremists, for “the other”, whose shootings have never in history amounted to the level of destruction seen in Las Vegas on that terrible night. The reserving of “terror” as that which “the other” perpetrates leads our society to categorize those who would do us harm as either the mentally unstable and white lone wolf, or, almost exclusively, the angry Muslim outsider. Oddly, the distinction does seem to provide the dominant social group with some comfort, presumably through the maintenance of collective innocence that it ensures. After all, several prominent media outlets have characterized the Las Vegas attacker as a rather “normal guy” who liked music and Mexican food, ascribing to him the type of nostalgic memorialization often reserved for victims of these types of attacks.
Also notable in Trump’s address is the president’s failure to even hint that his country may be falling ill to an ever worsening gun problem that has seen the republic face 273 mass shootings in the last 275 days. Obama regularly promoted gun control reform in his grief speeches, which have become so common for presidents, governors, mayors, and even comedians to deliver. As talk show host Conan O’Brien noted, it is remarkable to think that he, as a comedian of all things, now has a file in which to house his several mass shooting reaction transcripts. Senseless is indeed the word.
On October 2nd, the president surprised many with his air of sincerity during the address, despite relying solely on teleprompters for the duration; it seemed the normally egomaniacal man had managed to find the humility to join the shocked Americans at their very downtrodden, very broken level, in order to try and be a source of comfort. But was he really joining “all Americans” in their mourning and their grief? Mr. Trump’s speech was not just senseless and divisive because he failed to mention terrorism or gun control. The calm, calculated address incorporated several subtle signposts of white supremacy between its so-called “presidential” lines.
A quick discourse analysis of Monday’s remarks shows an inherently elitist, xenophobic, and nationalist slant to his tone. Despite Trump’s initial statement that he and his fellow Americans were “joined together” in sadness and grief, his purposeful allusions to Christianity saw many mourners feel left out. Trump remarked, “We call upon the bonds that unite us: our faith, our family, and our shared values.” When Trump says “faith”, we know that he is talking about one faith, one religion, and one God, in fact, whose name he goes on to invoke six times throughout his speech, even going so far as to quote scripture from the Christian Bible during the address. What is striking is not only Trump’s suspect piety, which the admitted crotch-grabber displays here for seemingly the first time in his public life, but also striking is the broadly swiping divide that he instantly creates by the mono-religious referencing. Trump shows a clear disregard for the separation of church and state in this address, assuming self-centeredly that all would be comforted by the God of his personal dreams, and none other. Herein lies a purposeful exclusion of the multi-faith and atheist victims of the ill-fated night, their bereaved families, friends, and loved ones. The veiled directive: be a Christian or go on suffering.
Throughout his remarks, Trump also thrice invoked the notion of citizenship, his other apparent God, positing it as one of those “bonds that unite us” referenced earlier. We must question, is this trope of white America really such a bond? When he addresses the people of Las Vegas and mentions that “hundreds of our fellow citizens are now mourning,” he must know that he is excluding any number of the reported 170 000 undocumented immigrants living in the Las Vegas area. It is a given that these American residents may comprise at least some of the shooting victims or the bereaved. And sadly, it is also a given, that their lives, their deaths, and their humanity will not be acknowledged by this commander in chief, whether they arrived in the US illegally of their own volition, or not, as in the case of the much talked about DREAMers of that country. Further to this point, we know that the international tourist hub that is Las Vegas saw the deaths of several visitors to the country that night, including four confirmed Canadians. What of their lives and families?
The act of terror that occurred in Las Vegas on the night of October 1st, 2017 sent a shockwave throughout the United States, Canada, and much of the world. As Global News reporter Mike Armstrong put it, the misery feels “as thick and heavy as a wet blanket.” Today, in my family, and many others, our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the victims in Las Vegas, no matter what colour or creed or nationality. There are things for which we all yearn when tragedy strikes: a sense of direction to help guide our hope, a way to try and make sense of the chaos in front of us and within our hearts, and a feeling of community and safety within our own small worlds. Unfortunately for us and for the families of the fallen – direction, sense, and unity, a divisive leader does not make.
May we turn then to all that is good in our lives, toward all those people who are good in our lives, and let them be the guiding light toward the sensibility and unity for which the world is now desperate.
May those who were lost rest forever in peace.