This is one of those excruciatingly embarrassing moments that tend to be beyond the ability of persons of civility and good taste to resolve. That’s what I’m here for.
It’s time to ask the president to stop giving his condolences in mass shootings. Of course I know how horrible, coarse, ill-mannered and insensitive that sounds. It’s the kind of thing no one with any class would ever want to do. As I say, this is where I step in.
It’s difficult even to say anything about the president’s condolence problem because the events themselves are so unspeakable. On Nov. 5, 26 human beings, including an unborn child, were slaughtered by a vicious gunman here in Texas, in a church in a small town called Sutherland Springs near San Antonio.
President Donald Trump, who was in Japan, whipped out a tweet at 3 a.m. his time, saying “May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan.”
Nothing really inexcusable there, given that I won’t get any mileage complaining about presidential condolences for staggering mass tragedies coming in the form of tweets. So it is, so it must be.
But nine days later, after a sickening shooting rampage in a California community called Rancho Tehama 100 miles north of Sacramento, Trump knocked out an ungrammatical message of condolence saying, “God be with the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI and Law Enforcement has arrived.”
Same message. Wrong town. So, does a person say anything? Well, you don’t. But back to me. I’m thinking about saying something, maybe because I’m here in Texas. Sutherland Springs is only 284 miles away. In Texas, that’s next door. Plus, it was all over local news for a week where I live.
The gun slaughter was beyond heartbreaking. It was truly traumatizing. So, yes, it bothers me for the president of the United States to deal with it in tweets in the first place and then apparently to just forget within a week that he’s already tweeted about it.
But I said nothing. I read about the mistake at the time. I said to myself, “Jim, how about for once in your life you don’t rip off the scab and say something ugly about a situation that is already so far beyond the pale anyway?”
I mention that because I want you to know that I do have small amounts of self-control and good taste. Very small amounts. I grew up in a nice family. We’ll talk another time about where things may have gone south for me.
Here, however, is where I lose it. Earlier this week, in the course of a totally wackadoodle discourse that no one even remotely believed about how he now suddenly favors totally tough gun control, Trump said to a Florida congressman: “Texas, as an example, is very much as to what I’m saying. And you’ve done very well. You haven’t had this problem.”
Haven’t had this problem? Let’s skip over the fact that the statement, “Texas … is very much as to what I’m saying,” doesn’t make any sense. Then let’s skip over the entire dreadful recent blood-drenched history in Texas, from five cops killed in downtown Dallas last summer to College Station to Fort Hood to Waco to Luby’s. The danger is in leaving things out.
No, I want to focus on one thing. President Trump tweeted condolences to Sutherland Springs twice — once when it happened and he was in Japan, second time a week later when a mass shooting took place in California and he thought it was Sutherland Springs again because he couldn’t remember that Sutherland Springs had already happened.
Now he’s forgotten all of it. He thinks Texas isn’t having mass shootings at all because Texas is “very much as to what I’m saying.”
All right, forget it, let’s do talk a little about where I probably went south. When I was little, I was a preacher’s kid in a small city in the Middle West. Funerals and weddings were good days for us because my dad was paid an honorarium. We usually got to have dinner out in the town’s only brand-new restaurant, which was called Beverly’s Chicken in the Rough, one of America’s first franchise chain restaurants. I loved it.
The only hitch was that my father was extremely fastidious about church ceremonies, and any time something had gone wrong at a service, he started out the meal in a foul mood, out of which my mother had to jolly him. The only time she couldn’t talk him down at Beverly’s Chicken in the Rough was the evening after a funeral at which an alcoholic father showed up totally tanked and kept wailing in the pews about the wrong daughter.
Humiliated family members finally jarred the drunk dad’s shoulder and said, “It’s not Evelyn, for God’s sake. It’s Mary. Evelyn is behind you.” According to my father’s angry retelling of it at dinner, the man turned around, saw Evelyn sitting wide-eyed behind him and nearly jumped out of his skin. (By the way, on a more personal note, I wonder if this story might help people understand why sometimes clergy children are a little bit outside.)
Here’s the point. At least when he was young, my father was not the warm, fuzzy type of clergyman. He was high-strung. He was very good — some people said too good — at halting a service in mid-prayer, pointing a long, bony finger at some poor, unwitting miscreant and telling him, “You just cut it out, fella.” Or “That’ll be enough out of you, Buster.” Or, “Take it outside, now!”
I think that’s where we may be with the president.
And I said at the top, did I not, that what I was about to tell you would be coarse, perhaps cruel, not at all the kind of thing nice people ever want to say to anyone, let alone to the president of the United States. But it’s exactly what I want to say.
These events are horrific. They are profoundly traumatizing. We are engaged in some kind of asymmetric civil war, suffering a suicidal terrorism in which we ourselves, our own kith and kin, our neighbors and loved ones, load up rifles and ammo and become our own worst nightmares. Our grief is compounded by our utter incomprehension.
It makes all of it so much worse, so much harder to bear, to have the goofball president sending out crazy, ungrammatical tweets in which he can’t even remember who got slaughtered. And then he forgets all of them.
I am aware that some of the Washington pundits have been talking for some time about whether Trump is too goofy to be trusted with complicated, consequential foreign policy questions or whether he can be expected to understand difficult, impacted problems like immigration reform. You know what? I’m probably not too far behind him on most of those things. I don’t get much of it either. Most of those things are above my pay grade.
I’m just talking about our ceremonies. Our services. The grief and the horror. I’m talking about everybody in the pews feeling 10 times worse, not even able to address our grief because we’ve got some old guy with orange hair who’s going on and on, and he can’t even remember what church he’s in.
That truly sucks. That’s not a problem about grief. That’s a problem about somebody please get this dude out of here.
So I’m just going to say it. I know nobody else will. I hope that my father will look down from the heavens, give me a thumbs-up and say, “Well, finally maybe you did one thing right.”
President Trump, get out of here. Stop with the tweeted condolences. We don’t want them. There’s something wrong with you, man. We need some quiet and some dignity. In matters this grave, this serious, this truly terrible for us, how can you possibly not even remember which town you’re talking about?
You live in the White House, sir. You are the president of the United States. You can’t pick up a phone? You can’t ask someone, “Hey, Sutherland Springs, Texas, was that last week, or is that the new one?” Do you see a gardener or a handyman, maybe, outside your French doors? He would know.
You really can’t be bothered to run your condolence tweets past some kind of copy editor first? You just knock them off and send them out without any idea if you’re talking about the right mass murder?
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You always say your prayers and thoughts are with us. No, sir, your prayers and thoughts are not with us. I don’t even know if they’re with you. Maybe you should send out a search party. But if you can’t remember who we are or what has happened to us, then that means your prayers and thoughts definitely are not with us. Not for long, anyway.
This is selfish of me. This is small. I should be much more concerned about all of those big foreign and domestic policy questions they say you can’t figure out on account of being too goofy. I suppose those things touch far more people and have far greater consequences than what you say to us here in Texas about the gun slaughters.
The difference is that our grief and our dismay over the gun slaughters belong to us, not you. This is where we live. This problem dwells in our hearts. We can do the grief without you. We don’t need your help.
And guess what? When your help is crazy and embarrassing and way wide of the mark, we don’t want it. Take it outside.