On Saturday, a gunman opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, massacring 11 people. The shooter said he was motivated by his belief in a conspiracy theory: a Jewish financier, the gunman said, is paying for an “invasion” of Central American migrants seeking refuge in the United States.
Two days after the attack, Donald Trump publicly endorsed – twice – the idea of a migrant “invasion,” and four days after the attack, the president lent credence to the idea of a Jewish financier. This was the exchange between Trump and a reporter during a brief White House Q&A yesterday afternoon:
Q: Do you think somebody is funding the caravan? Do you think somebody is paying for the caravan?
TRUMP: I wouldn’t be surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised.
Q: George Soros? Who’s paying for it?
TRUMP: I don’t know who. But I wouldn’t be surprised. A lot of people say yes.
We’re left with the painful realization that the sitting president of the United States has now offered at least some public support for the exact conspiracy theory – for which there is no evidence – that drove a madman to commit the deadliest crime against Jewish Americans in the nation’s history.
Complicating matters, this isn’t the only way in which Trump has badly screwed up the response to the mass shooting in Pittsburgh.
Ignoring appeals from local officials, the president traveled to the city this week to pay his respects. Yesterday, however, Trump went out of his way to make the visit about him, writing on Twitter, “Melania and I were treated very nicely yesterday in Pittsburgh. The Office of the President was shown great respect on a very sad & solemn day. We were treated so warmly.”
In other words, what Trump seems to consider important was not the president paying his respects, but rather, others paying respect to him.
Soon after, the Republican apparently couldn’t resist connecting the slaying to campaign politics, publishing a separate tweet that read, “Yesterday in Pittsburgh I was really impressed with Congressman Keith Rothfus (far more so than any other local political figure). His sincere level of compassion, grief and sorrow for the events that took place was, in its own way, very inspiring. Vote for Keith!”
All of this comes on the heels of Trump, shortly after learning of the mass shooting, complaining about the synagogue failing to have armed guards inside the house of worship to protect its congregants.
It wouldn’t have been difficult for the president to respond to the deadly violence in Pittsburgh in a respectful and responsible way. But as we’ve learned on a few too many occasions, when the circumstances require empathy, the result is a test Donald Trump simply cannot pass.