Was Trump's El Paso Visit a Turning Point?
A day of racist comments left him looking small and isolated, while the city united against him.
By Richard Parker
Mr. Parker is the author of "Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America." Published, New York Times, August 8, 2019.
EL PASO — If consoling the nation in a time of desperate need is a vital and yet simple task of the American presidency, Donald J. Trump failed miserably this week.
From his flight on Wednesday to Dayton, Ohio, to this sprawling high-desert city on the Mexican border, the 45th occupant of the White House not only littered his consolation tour with petty insults — but just to rub salt in the wound, doses of renewed racism. Yet most striking was how alone and outnumbered the president was: rejected, ostracized and told to go home.
The people who streamed the scene of the terrorist attack here — brown, black, white and every hue in between — defiantly defended the nation's diversity. With no public appearances, the president seemed to shrink, ever more alone as he clung to his white nationalist politics and governance. But he and his supporters were grossly outnumbered. For perhaps the first time in his angry, racist and cruel presidency, the tables were turned in smoldering, righteous popular anger — and he was on the receiving end.
You have to give this to Mr. Trump: He never backs off. He doubles down like a wild gambler in a casino, raising the stakes one more time demanding just a few more chips from the house. Leaving the White House on Wednesday morning, he said, "I think my rhetoric brings people together," adding he was "concerned about the rise of any group of hate. I don't like it, whether it's white supremacy, whether it's any other kind of supremacy."As if there was some other kind of violent political ideology that has killed people — blacks and whites, Jews and Latinos — from Charlottesville, Va., to Pittsburgh, Dayton and El Paso. Leaving Dayton, Mr. Trump insulted the mayor and a senator from the safety of Air Force One and, of course, Twitter.
Trump even jabbed a racist poke at El Paso, ridiculing the former Democratic Representative Beto O'Rourke's Spanish first name, though he is of Anglo descent: "Beto (phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage) O'Rourke, who is embarrassed by my last visit to the Great State of Texas, where I trounced him, and is now even more embarrassed polling at 1% in the Democratic Primary, should respect the victims & law enforcement — & be quiet!"
While it was bad manners for a nation in mourning, it was more than that: It was a fresh dose of racism. In an era in which minorities are becoming majorities, as in Texas, and intermarrying with Anglos, who is Mr. Trump to judge people's race and ethnicity based on their names? My last name is Anglo, but I am the son of a Mexican immigrant.
At the makeshift memorial to the 22 killed for the hue of their skin while shopping at a Walmart on a Saturday, I spoke with a young soldier from the 1st Armored Division at nearby Fort Bliss. Big and burly in his camouflage uniform, Pvt. First Class Richard Riley, 20, stood with arms crossed, staring silently at the piles of flowers, plastic hearts and white crosses, one for every victim.But behind his dark glasses, his eyes welled up. "I just can't believe it," he said. "I'm Hispanic, too. And I can't believe that these people were killed because they were."
In the dark hours after the attack, fear swept over my hometown. Lightning flashed on the horizon, illuminating empty streets and parking lots. Bars and restaurants shuttered their doors. Wherever I went, as I departed I heard this: "Take care out there." That was a phrase I'd never heard in this city in more than 50 years.
Even at a public library, near the site of the attack, people openly advised each other to be careful, even exiting to the parking lot. "You gotta look both ways when you head out there," said one man, loud enough for all to hear. "Be safe out there in all aspects."
But in the human cycle of grief, the fear, disbelief and anxiety has transformed into a seething anger. El Paso is not a volatile, rioting city where the president could expect trouble. But he inevitably saw how alone he was in his toxic, racist politics, some throwback to a receding time in America.When Air Force One touched down, the temperature was soaring toward 104 degrees and just one single local official, Mayor Dee Margo, was there to greet him (Gov. Greg Abbott was there as well).
Along the president's route from the airport to a hospital, people lined the roads to greet him — largely with rejection. "What's more important?" Asked one man's sign. "Lives or re-election?" American and Mexican flags sprouted together in the August heat. Signs with quotes bearing his name came back to haunt him: "We cannot allow these people to invade our country." "Not Welcome" covered a stage at a park where people protested the president. The El Paso Times ran a black front page with this headline: "Mr. President, We Are Hurting."
How people actually live here stands in stark contrast to Mr. Trump's white nationalism, consistently separating Americans into old-fashioned, racist categories. (Among other instances: He has told American Jews that Israel's prime minister is their leader and proudly boasted of his few black supporters by calling them "my African Americans.") Six in 10 Americans here have family on the other side of the trickling Rio Grande, according to a study by the El Paso Community Foundation, while six in 10 Mexicans just across the border have family on the American side. Thirty percent of Latinos here marry outside their ethnicity, usually an Anglo. Nationwide, one in six marriages are interracial, according to the Pew Research Center.
And what is usually forgotten is that racial violence in America has almost never been a two-way street. Instead, it has been visited, unfortunately, by the majority — whites. What whites have historically called "race riots" have actually been one-sided assaults by whites: Anglo-on-Latino in Texas, white-on-Chinese further West, white-on-blacks in Oklahoma and the Deep South. And so it continues, in 2019.As if to symbolize just how out of touch Trumpism is here and in much of America, a sole woman approached the makeshift memorial at the Walmart where 22 people died. She wore a bright red MAGA hat, and quickly over 30 people surrounded her chanting: "Take it off! Take it off!" She refused, yelling back that the president should be accepted here — only to be drowned out. Later, young people appeared, dressed in black, chanting: "white violence, White House."
Something is shifting. Mr. Trump may not have felt it during his few hours in town, but walking around, you couldn't miss it. The El Paso massacre brought together the most active of America's shifting tectonic plates: racism, assault weapons, a national Latino population of 60 million now with a target on its back, Mr. Trump's white nationalism and his awful manners for a country in mourning.
Another president might have been sensitive enough to sense the shift, and changed course accordingly — played the convener, the unifier. Instead, Mr. Trump displayed just how small he is, no matter how big his mouth or powerful his office. He never once appeared in public. By 6:01 p.m., after just a little more than two hours, he was safely aboard Air Force One again and it was wheels up into the sky. But he is a shrinking president, stuck in a racist past, flying over a changing America. And I think we — or most of us — are all El Paso now.
August 9, 2019
Voices4America Post Script. My favorite line from this article - "But he is a shrinking president, stuck in a racist past, flying over a changing America. And I think we — or most of us — are all El Paso now." Remember to share what you read. You make a difference. #WeAreElPaso #RemoveTrump
Addition. We now know that the hospitalized victims of the shooting refused to meet with Trump. What did he do?
An infant saved by parents who shielded him had been discharged the day before. The baby was brought back for Trump’s visit for the photo op below.
We learned about this from Melania Trump’s twitter account.
Sick people. Sick.