America is broken. This should be obvious following the massacres that took place in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas over the weekend. What's more, President Trump is a major part of the problem. And, because of that, it is nearly impossible for him to have a role in fixing things.
If there is any sliver of encouraging news to emerge from the twin tragedies, it's that some of the nation's leading conservatives seem newly roused to take action against the scourge of white nationalism, which was the apparent motivation of the suspected El Paso shooter. The problem, though, is conservatives seem to think Trump — who has served as both an enabler and a beneficiary of that ideology's resurgence — will lead the way. That seems naive at best, and darkly foolish at worst.
"President Trump, a man who is comfortable using his bully pulpit for the most frivolous of reasons, should take the time to condemn these actions repeatedly and unambiguously, in both general and specific terms," National Review editorialized on Sunday, adding that he should "instruct the federal government to initiate an information campaign against white-supremacist violence in much the same way as it has conducted crusades against drunk driving, human trafficking, and domestic violence."
"Trump should deliver a prime-time speech as soon as possible that names the evil at play here and denounces it," the Washington Examiner added in its own editorial. "He has on Twitter rightly condemned the actions in El Paso. Now he needs to face the cameras, address the nation, and condemn the motivation. Trump needs to make clear that he hates white nationalism as something un-American and evil."
Even Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) — who announced last week that he's leaving Congress, apparently in part because of the president's recent racist rhetoric directed at minority Democratic members of Congress — seemed to be holding out some faint hope that Trump can help heal the country. "He has an opportunity to be the uniter-in-chief and I hope that's the way to go," Hurd said on CBS.
Other conservatives piped up to urge a confrontation with white nationalism, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). And the New York Post, a pretty Trump-friendly paper, used today's front page to beg the president for an assault weapons ban. These sentiments raise unlikely expectations for Trump. The president traffics in racism and divisiveness. To expect otherwise is folly.
Trump has had a chance to "name the evil at play" before, in Charlottesville, after an anti-racist protestor was killed following clashes with white supremacist marchers. He famously equivocated instead. Let's not forget, too, that during the presidential campaign, Trump tried to avoid denouncing the notorious white supremacist David Duke. This is not a man who is above denouncing his enemies, clearly, but he has a long history of working to avoid criticizing the racists who support and find inspiration from his presidency. Trump may not bear direct blame for Saturday's murders in El Paso, but his racist rhetoric — particularly in recent weeks — has surely provided aid and comfort to the white nationalist cause.
Even if his racial history were squeaky clean, we have no evidence that Trump has any instincts that would make him a "uniter-in-chief." He thinks of himself as a fighter. So do his fans. Bridge-building would be off-brand for him, to say the least.
So, in order to unequivocally denounce racism and work for its demise, we'd be talking about Trump undergoing a major reversal of character. To have any chance at uniting Americans, he would have to accept the legitimacy and good faith of his opponents. To work for a weapons ban, he would have to risk losing the support of the National Rifle Association.
None of these developments are likely. Yes, we can probably expect a somewhat bland denunciation of "hate" when the president addresses the nation today — but we can also expect, based on his history, that the statement will be wildly insufficient. We've been down this road before.
It's good that leading conservatives want to join the fight against violent racism. But the efforts of such conservatives are likely to be short-lived if they truly expect Trump to lead the way. Trump can't fix this problem. To a large extent, he is the problem. Americans looking to confront and defeat white nationalism and gun violence almost certainly have no choice but to look elsewhere for leadership.