The Thoughtless Response To An Incomprehensible Crime
The president of the United States prides himself on his unpredictability. “I don’t want them to know what I’m thinking,” he likes to say. Leaving aside the assumption in his statement, the sentiment itself is particularly absurd, given recent coverage indicating that Russia, China and your aunt Sadie are apparently listening to his routine iPhone conversations. But his claim of unpredictability, like virtually everything else the president says, is an utter lie. He is as predictable as gravity.
When asked about the horrific mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue, in which four police officers were injured trying to stop the killer, the president struck a very different tone from the Jewish community’s plea for love, acceptance and healing. Instead, the president noted that “if they had protection inside, the results would have been far better.” In a case where the killer entered a place of worship with an AR-15 assault rifle and three handguns, the president declared that our gun laws had little to do with the shooting. Both responses are to be expected – it is hard to imagine any set of circumstances that would force him to stray from the party line of the gun manufacturer’s lobby. But even more predictable were the president’s words about Robert Bowers, the demented anti-Semitic killer:
When you have crimes like this, whether it’s one, or another one on another group, we have to bring back the death penalty… They have to pay the ultimate price. They can’t do this. They can’t do this to our country. We must draw a line in the sand and say, ‘Never again.’ When people do this, they should get the death penalty. Anybody that does a thing like this to innocent people that are in temple or in church ― we’ve had so many incidents with churches ― they should be suffering the ultimate price.
As a point of comparison, it is impossible not to think of Dylann Roof and the equally incomprehensible murderous rampage in a Charleston church in 2015. And it must be noted that the Obama Justice Department ultimately sought and obtained a death sentence against Roof. But note President Obama’s words after that crime:
The FBI is now on the scene with local police, and more of the bureau's best are on their way to join them. The attorney general has announced plans for the FBI to open a hate crime investigation. We understand that the suspect is in custody, and I'll let the best of law enforcement do its work to make sure that justice is served. Until the investigation is complete, I'm necessarily constrained in terms of talking about the details of the case. But I don't need to be constrained about the emotions that tragedies like this raise…We don't have all the facts, but we do know that once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hand on a gun…Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let's be clear. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency…And it is in our power to do something about it…At some point, it's going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.
It’s tempting to just stop writing at this point, to let the blustering conclusion that a death sentence is the answer compare with the reasoned observation that gun violence must be met by legislation, not execution. To let a knee-jerk response that the cure for crime is punishment compare with the thoughtful reflection that our country has a problem with mass violence that other countries do not. To let one president’s bullying call for a specific punishment compare with another’s calm understanding that justice is a process, not a demand.
Yes, let’s just stop writing at this point. Their words speak for themselves.