Thursday, February 15, 2018

The President's Speech On Florida Shooting - Between The Lines

Here's my take on the President's speech this morning on the Parkland school shooting.  I've done a reasonably close transcript (since I couldn't find any yet)[I did find one before I was done here- it's officially a 'statement'' not a speech] and I'll comment between the lines of his speech.  Let me say, that much of the rhetoric and tone were appropriate for this sort of situation.  But given the President's own words and behaviors, much of it seems ironic.  And if we look carefully at the text, we'll see it's full of clichés but lacking any real substance.  This would be an appropriate speech, perhaps after the first school shooting this year, but ABC News reports there have already been 18 school shootings in the first 45 days of 2018. (Not all were intentional, some were suicides.)

Our president and legislators can't keep using the same condolence platitudes.

But before I look at the speech in detail, I want to point out this was very much "a speech."  He's using his speech voice as he reads.  He is not speaking 'from the heart' or in his natural voice.  That's fairly easy to test.  Just listen to the last line of the speech:

"Thank you and God bless you all." 
If he were actually feeling the words he was speaking, his 'thank you' would have been real.  But it wasn't.  He didn't even know that he'd just said 'thank you'.  How do I know that?  Because immediately after finishing the speech, he says in a much more natural tone of voice:
"Thank you very much."  
You can hear the switch from speech voice to real voice clearly. Here's the end tape of the tape.  [I have it set to begin at 6:22.  It seems to do that the first time you play it, then it goes back to the beginning.  Which allows you to hear the whole speech if you have nothing better to do.]

The Speech  [Trump's words are in italics and indented.  Mine are not.]

My fellow Americans, today I speak to a nation in grief. Yesterday, a school filled with innocent children and caring teachers became the scene of terrible violence. hatred, and evil.
Cliché alert.  What does 'innocent children' actually mean? These are high school students, not elementary school kids.  They may be relatively young, but I'm guessing innocent is not the best word to describe most of them.  The shooter, after all, was one of the students last year.

Cliché alert:  'Evil.'  While evil is used to mean unspeakably bad, Collins also defines it this way:
"Evil is a powerful force that some people believe to exist, and that causes wicked and bad things to happen."
Evil, in this religious sense, is an underlying natural force in the world.    It's often used to deflect blame or suggest there are no solutions.    Later in the speech Trump talks about tackling the issue of mental health.  Is he demonizing mental illness?  Or is evil just one of the words speechwriters always choose for this topic?
"Around 2:30 yesterday afternoon, police responded to reports of gunfire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a great and safe community."
I guess it isn't all that safe.   Or if people thought it was, it means there are no safe communities.

"There, a shooter who is now in custody opened fire on defenseless students and teachers.  He murdered 17 people and badly wounded at least 14 others.  Our entire nation with a one heavy heart is praying for the victims and their families.  To every parent, teacher, and child who is hurting so badly,  we are here for you whatever we can do, whatever you need, to ease your pain."
Does that include this student from the high school who tweeted in response to Trump's condolence tweet ?

I can't confirm this really is a student at that school, though Newsweek quoted the tweet.  But I'm sure there are some students at the school who feel this way.  Will gun control be off the agenda when Trump visits the school, like it was in this speech?

"We are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also.  No child, no teacher should ever be in danger in an American school.  No parent should ever have to fear for their sons and daughters when they kiss them goodbye in the morning." 
True, though I wonder how many parents actually kiss their high school students before they head off in the morning?    And we've been having school and other mass shootings regularly going back before Sandy Hook.  Things haven't gotten safer.  What concrete action do you plan to take?

"Each person who was stolen from us yesterday, had a full life ahead of them, a life filled with wondrous beauty and unlimited potential and promise.  Each one had dreams to pursue and love to give, and talents to share with the world.    And each one had a family to whom they meant everything in the world."
This is really quite beautiful and insightful.  And he read it well, but I have some questions.  Does he feel this about the kids in ghetto Baltimore?  The women who are accusing him of sexual abuse?   What about the Dreamers he wants to send back to dangerous, if not life threatening, situations?  These are, I'm afraid, just words that the President read, that someone else wrote for him.
"Today we mourn for all of those who lost their lives.  We comfort the grieving and wounded. And we hurt for the entire community of Parkland, Florida  that is  now in shock and pain and searching for answers.  To law enforcement, first responders and teachers who responded so bravely in the face of danger:  We thank you for your courage."  
Appropriate sentiments, not much substantive content.

"Soon after the shooting I spoke to Gov Scott to convey our deepest sympathies to the people of Florida and our    determination to assist in any way we can.  I also spoke with Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and  Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.   I’m making plans to visit Parkland to meet with families and local officials and continue coordinating the Federal response." 
 Pam Bondi, if you recall, was deciding on whether to prosecute Trump University when her campaign got a $25,000 check from aTrump foundation.  She made her decision shortly after to drop the case.
"In these moments of heartache and darkness, we hold on to God’s word in scripture, “I have heard your prayer, and seen your tears, I will heal you.”  We trust in that promise and we hold fast to our fellow Americans in their time of sorrow."
I'm not a biblical scholar.  But I'd note this quote comes from a story in  II Kings 20:5 and also in  Isaiah, Chapter 38.   Hezekiah is ill.  Isaiah hears from a prophet that Hezekiah will die. Isaiah tells Hezekiah, who then prays to the Lord to remember he's lived a good life.  It is then, that Isaiah hears the words Trump quotes.
"Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5 “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’"
This is not a prayer for grieving parents, but for a dying King who is given reprieve.

But Trump is talking to the grieving relatives of dead children and teachers, and unlike Hezekiah, they won't be healed.
"I want to speak now directly to America’s children."
This is perhaps the scariest part of the speech for me.  How many people would want Trump to give advice to their children?  Especially their high school age daughters?  Gives me the creeps.
"Especially to those who feel lost, alone, confused, or even scared.  I want you to know that you are never alone and never will be.  You have people who care about you and love you and will do anything to protect all.  If you need help turn to a teacher, a family member, a local police officer, or a faith leader.  
In general, this is something a loving and caring president might tell children.  Yet, for the most vulnerable of children, this isn't necessarily true.  Think of the children of religious families who were kicked out when they said they were gay.  The kids of drug addicts may not have anyone.  And I know that a lot of African-American parents would not tell their kids to report things to local police officers.   Kids with mental health problems feel isolated.  Like the shooter.  Who was helping him?  Apparently there were lots of signs he needed help desperately.  Are people like him included here? Or are they the evil Trump warns about?
Answer hate with love and cruelty with kindness.  We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life  that creates deep and meaningful human connections and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbors."
Really?  Trump is telling people to answer hate with love, cruelty with kindness?  Create deep and meaningful human connections?  Were the speechwriters giggling at the irony as they wrote this?
"Our administration is working closely with local authorities to investigate the shooting and learn everything we can. " 
He also tweeted that 
"We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico."
 ...people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military. All buildings now inspected....."
Can we believe him?

"We are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools tackle the the difficult issue of mental health."
As much as Republicans want to talk about mental health, rather than guns, as the way to prevent shootings, their track record on supporting mental health regularly comes into question.

"Later this month I will be meeting with the nation’s  governors and attorney generals [sic] where making our schools and children safer will be our top priority."
I can't find anything about a meeting between the president and the governors and AG's.  The only official looking schedule for the president I can find is at Fact Based, but it only goes backward in time from today.  Not into the future.  

There is a National Governor's Association Winter meeting scheduled for February 24-  in DC.  Maybe that's what he's referring to.  Its agenda doesn't include school shootings or mental health.  How exactly does the president meet with the 50 governors and attorneys general? Almost half the state AG's have already sued the President over various issues in his first year in office.   So they don't seem to have "created deep and meaningful human connections" with the president yet.

They're only meeting for two days and they already have a full agenda.  I just don't see this as more than a way to look like he's going to do something.  The kind of thing the next sentence of his speech warns against.
"It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference.  We must actually make that difference.  In times of tragedy, the bonds that sustain us are those of family, faith, community, and country.  These bonds are stronger than the forces of hate and evil.  And these bonds grow even stronger in the hours of our greatest need."
So we're supposed to rely on our bonds of family, faith, community, and country to end school shootings?  More on the forces of hate and evil.
"And so always, but especially today, let us hold our loved ones close, let us pray for healing and for peace, and let us come together as one nation and wipe away the tears and strive for a much better tomorrow.  Thank you and God bless you all."
That ends the official speech, but then, finally, Trump talks in his real voice.  Which, as I pointed out above, shows that he wasn't even comprehending what he was reading.  Since the end of the official speech already ended with a thank you.
Thank you very much.
I'd also point out that simply talking about mentally ill people being the problem is also problem.  TheNational Alliance on Mental Illness claims that18% of US adults experience mental health problems in any year.  That's almost 20% of our population.  The vast majority are NOT high risk to be shooters.  Linking mental illness so broadly to mass shootings is likely to continue the stigma of mental health, and  mean fewer people seek treatment for their mental health problems.            


  1. I can't bring myself to listen, so thanks for this. But suspect these smooth, meaningless words (being read out by heartless Trump) will be honey to his supporters who don't seem to have critical hearing abilities, many having grown up with platitudes every Sunday rolling out from the church pulpits.

    1. These things just jumped out at me, but I realize that many people don't 'hear' what I hear. If you just hear the clichés and soothing tone, it's easy to overlook the emptiness of the content. And the irony. So I thought I'd spell it out.

  2. Seriously, does any person with a few live brain cells expect something more from this ....uh...guy? His comassion only extends to wife beaters, imho.

    How did America digress from the gentlemanly Obama to this creature?

    1. Americans who voted for Trump did not "digress" -- they always hated Obama and (still) think he was the worst president ever. Those who voted for Obama are still progressive and cannot understand the Trump supporters who, as we can now see, are now proudly showing their truly deplorable regressive selves, legitimized by Trump.

      The great divide -- and getting wider every day. If anything happens to Trump, there will be blood. He will relish "releasing" them to fight back, as he does daily in his schoolyard bully Tweets.

      His life support is praise & loyalty and he's constantly testing his minions who will never admit to being conned. They have conflated their religion with his presidency: both inerrant.

    2. Mike, I'm afraid it's phrases like "a few live brain cells" that keeps the divide growing. People who feel disrespected are reacting emotionally, even when they know it's not in their long term best interests. There's also the difference between being one-on-one and mob behavior. It appears that the Russians played the Left and the Right with their social media bots, inflaming both sides to then, continue inflaming each other. I'd suggest treating every insulting tweet as a Russian bot.
      And thanks Barbara for pointing out that debating the # of shootings is something that really doesn't change the basic picture. There are enough that the point is valid.

  3. Fake News
    ‘Just five of Everytown’s 18 school shootings listed for 2018 happened during school hours and resulted in any physical injury. Three others appeared to be intentional shootings but did not hurt anyone. Two more involved guns — one carried by a school police officer and the other by a licensed peace officer who ran a college club — that were unintentionally fired and, again, led to no injuries. At least seven of Everytown’s 18 shootings took place outside normal school hours.’

    Real News
    ‘On average, two dozen children are shot every day in the United States, and in 2016 more youths were killed by gunfire — 1,637 — than during any previous year this millennium.’


    1. Oliver, Fake News is news that is basically made up and is factually wrong and intended to deceive. I get this definition from a paper that reviewed scholarly articles that looked at Fake News. They came up with two dimensions: levels of facticity and deception.
      The piece I cited had a somewhat misleading title, but it was based on facts and the link explained the 18 incidents. AND it was not deceptive, because the basic premise of increased violence was accurate and there was no deception intended. I briefly qualified the shootings by mentioning that it included suicides and by the link that explained Everytown's definition and that raised all the issues you raise. So there is no deception on my part, though I probably could have used something that used a more standard definition.

    2. At this point, defining shootings is sounding like counting how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It is guns, guns, guns at the base of all this carnage and the NRA lobbying (and a seemingly heartless & bought-out GOP congress) that will keep guns (including the AK 15) available forever -- to anybody (including mentally ill thanks to recent legislation).

      America is an immature teenage country that won't give up its toys.

    3. I will give you (grudgingly) that it was not ‘fake’ news, but it was patently misleading. Committing suicide on school grounds at a school that has been closed is no school shooting and everyone knows it. The number was to elicit an emotional response, drill down and you find no substance to connect it to what happened in Florida.
      So you ban the Ar-15, what are you going to do about the 15 to 20 million already in private hands? Look a little closer at mass shooting and you will see more were committed with handguns than rifles ( The carnage is certainly more with rifles but you have handguns that are capable of firing 25 to 30 rounds and ban the AR-15 and people will just go to those, The Virginia Tech shooter wo killed 30 plus people used handguns. If banning or making illegal guns will stop things from happening then explain why do we have murder, rape, illegal drugs, theft, assault, and for that matter? It is not ‘guns guns guns’. You can't legislate morality. People have had guns in their homes for 200 years, and these shootings have just been happening over the past 20 to 25 years. The Colorado shooter last year for example. It was illegal when he stole his mother’s gun. It was illegal when he shot his mother in the face. It was illegal when he took guns on school property. It was illegal when he forced his way into the school. It was illegal when he started shooting people. Tell me how passing more laws on legal gun owners helps solve the problem of the mentally insane and criminals that do not care about your laws? And remember assault weapons were banned ( read the studies of its effectiveness. FBI statistics point again to handguns being more of a problem (

      We focus all the time on the weapon and not on the fact this kid was tagged ‘most likely to shoot up a school’ and the FBI was notified and nothing happened. Alaska has more guns per capita ( than any other state, one would think mass shootings would be happening here. It’s not guns its people and a less civil society, should we take the time to see why the warning signs were missed and he did not get help he needed or let’s just try to round up about 20 million guns. Your choice.

    4. Oliver,
      I appreciate your 'grudging' acknowledgement that it was not fake news. I still don't understand why it's grudgingly. There are many categories of problems with real news - news written by well meaning people who strongly believe what they are writing. These folks can do things like make minor factual errors that don't effect the basic point, to serious errors, even fabrications. Some have done it because the 'narrative was true' and they were creating a person to exemplify the narrative. Some did this to have make the story 'more real' others to get a sensational story that would further their careers. This gets closer to Fake News, But their intent was not to deceive. There are lots of ways to do Real News poorly.
      Fake News is intended to deceive the reader - it's what Fox news has specialized in and it's been taken to an extreme by Russian (and other?) bots, intending to inflame emotions and destroy democratic institutions that are dependent on trust. Bits of fact are thrown in to give it a sense of truthiness.
      My reaction was to your readiness to do what Donald Trump does in nearly every tweet - automatically label what he disagrees with as "Fake News." It wasn't even close. I qualified - 'not all intentional, some suicides' - and I even said that ABC reported it, not me and gave a link so you could see it. I could have been more careful and said 'gunfire' as one sentence in the ABC story does. But a shooting is gunfire.
      And I also think the number of incidents, whatever you call them, is not critical, as Barbara Carlson writes, to the point of the post. By getting bogged down on minor side issues, we don't get to the main issues.

      You do move on to your real issue - that banning guns won't solve anything and the real solution is to fix the system. I don't cede that tightening access to guns won't do any good, but suppose you're right. More money for mental health care would be good. Help for unplanned and unwanted kids would be good. Better schools would be good. More social workers would be good. Well, Republicans think this is wasted money, that people should pull themselves up and work harder. They fight universal health care, including mental health care. They fight government helping people in need because 'government is bad'.
      There are lots of little things which done together would lower the incidence of gun deaths, including more limits on gun ownership. Here is a description of Florida gun laws. (I've looked at several sites, this seems consistent with the others.}

      In hindsight, the FBI dropped the ball with Cruz, but how many hundreds (thousands) of reports did they have on crazy people who did not become shooters? Should all weird people be, well, what should happen to them?

  4. Not sure why, but the Congress had previously voted to keep money away from the CDC to study gun violence as a public health issue....with which the results could even go towards gun violence prevention. Although the AMA supports this study, the NRA does not, which is telling.

    1. Here's an LA Times headline from 2016: "The NRA has blocked gun violence research for 20 years. Let's end its stranglehold on science."


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