President Trump has made no secret of his inability to appropriately perform the role of “comforter-in-chief” for even one day, but now he’s facing a new round of criticism over photos and videos that captured his bizarre behavior during his trip to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, on Wednesday.
Between visits with those affected by the shootings that claimed the lives of 31 people last weekend, Trump generated a steady stream of nasty tweets, lashing out at Beto O’Rourke, the New York Times, Fox News, Joe Biden, Joaquin and Julián Castro, and the media in general. He even attacked two Ohio officials, Senator Sherrod Brown and Dayton mayor Nan Whaley, falsely accusing them of misrepresenting what happened during his hospital visit. Then, in El Paso, he made the bizarre observation that the shooter, who was arrested by police, is a “coward. He gave up, just gave up.”
It’s almost hard to imagine a leader being so upbeat and distracted when seeing the horrifying aftermath of a mass shooting up close, but we don’t have to. Late on Wednesday, a local CBS station tweeted cell phone video of Trump meeting with first responders at El Paso’s University Medical Center, in which he bragged about the crowd size at a rally he held in the city earlier this year and took more jabs at O’Rourke.
First he praised medical staff, emphasizing that he’d seen one doctor on TV and “they’re talking about you all over the world.” Then he quickly pivoted to talking about himself.
“I was here three months ago,” Trump said. “That place was packed … That was some crowd. And we had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot, they said his crowd was wonderful,” he continued.
The White House told journalists that they couldn’t accompany Trump into the hospitals in Dayton and El Paso because it wasn’t a “photo op.” But CNN reports this is the opposite of what Trump wanted:
But according to one person familiar with the President’s reaction, the President lashed out at his staff for keeping the cameras away from him, complaining that he wasn’t receiving enough credit. Aides had feared a moment like the one that is now going viral — where the President appears to focus on himself in front of those still recovering from a tragedy.
On Wednesday afternoon, between angry tweets, Trump and other White House officials posted campaign-style videos and photos of the president’s hospital visits.
Many people in the footage seem excited to meet the president and First Lady (particularly the man displaying Trump socks in the cell phone video). But one hospital official in El Paso told CNN that Trump showed an “absence of empathy” during his visit. And of course, the images do not show that all of the victims still being treated at University Medical Center of El Paso refused a visit from Trump. Three declined because they were in too poor condition or had a Spanish-language barrier, and five simply did not want to meet the president, according to the El Paso Times.
The hospital said two victims who had already been discharged returned to the hospital with their families to meet with Trump. It appears that included 2-month-old Paul, who was orphaned in the shooting. Paul was grazed by a bullet and broke two fingers, and the family says his parents, Andre and Jordan Anchondo, died shielding him. One of the photos below, posted by the First Lady, shows the Trumps with big smiles on their faces, the president flashing a thumbs up sign.
The photo struck a nerve online:
It’s become a trite exercise, but let’s imagine for a moment what the reaction would have been if during one of his many visits to cities affected by a mass shooting, President Obama had bashed various political enemies, then turned footage of his jovial interactions with victims and first responders into promotional material for his reelection campaign. People across the political spectrum would have been appalled, and the incident would be remembered for years as a stain on his legacy. (For a reminder on how a normal president behaves, take a look at this 2016 New York Times piece on Obama offering genuine hugs and words of comfort during lengthy private visits with the families of mass shooting victims.)
Yet the controversy over Trump’s disturbing behavior in Dayton and El Paso will likely be forgotten within a few days, as it’s just the latest in a long list of reminders that our current president is functioning without an empathy chip.