His words sounded familiar — it was a message we might expect to hear from any American president following two mass murders — but they rang hollow.
The sedated delivery of his prepared response — read without emotion from a script that scrolled slowly across the screen of a teleprompter — was just one cue that might tip the president's hand regarding the sincerity of his statement. The big reveal came just hours after President Donald Trump read these words — "Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul ..." — and during the following days.
It's hard to argue the veracity of those words. But considering some of the comments Trump made during his 2016 presidential campaign — and many more, even less appealing, while serving as president — it is difficult to ascertain whether the man who muttered them Monday believes them to be true.
That is especially so in light of reporting by the New York Times published shortly after the president's formal remarks to the mass murders in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The article highlighted data compiled by Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic communications firm that tracks digital ads that promote the campaigns of presidential candidates.
The data show the president's campaign for re-election in 2020 has posted since January more than 2,000 digital ads on Facebook that prominently display the word "invasion." Immigration is the dominant theme of those digital ads, and the message being conveyed bears a striking similarity to the rant reportedly posted online by the man who killed 22 people Saturday morning while they were shopping at Walmart in El Paso.
Of the $5.6 million reportedly spent by the Trump campaign for Facebook advertising since late March, about $1.25 million was spent on the ads that warn about "an invasion" and urge readers to "stop the invasion." Bully Pulpit's data show there was a lull in spending by the president's campaign for such ads from late April into early July — the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reported more than 144,250 arrests in May, which according to the New York Times was "the highest monthly total in 13 years."
Further evidence casting doubt upon the sincerity of the president's words came two days later while he traveled to the cities where residents mourned the tragedies that have become too common in America. In Mississippi, about 600 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents carried out the president's policies by rounding up about 700 workers at seven poultry processing plants without giving any thought to the children left stranded at schools and child care centers in the wake of the sudden arrests of their parents.
Children services workers in Mississippi expressed frustration after the fact because there was no notification of the widespread arrests of workplaces with histories of employing those afraid to speak out about unsafe working conditions. Residents in these communities scrambled to care for children who undoubtedly will relive the moment for many years.
Meanwhile the president promised to give law enforcement "whatever they need" to end "these barbaric slaughters" and the "attack upon our nation" committed "by this monstrous evil." Like other instances throughout history, it seems the opportunity is being taken to cultivate a crisis, sow fear and reap power.
Officials in one Mississippi school district said about 15 percent of the 4,300 students enrolled there stayed home the day after the raids on Wednesday due to fear for their safety. Administrators and other district employees made calls and knocked on doors trying to convince people it was safe to send children back to school.
It's easy to understand why these children and their families would be hesitant to venture out after such an ordeal, or why some people in Times Square panicked when a motor misfired. What we don't know now is what impact this barrage of "invasion" ads and promises of more raids by ICE agents will have on some voters who dare to venture out to their precincts on Election Day in 2020.
D.E. Smoot covers city/county government for the Phoenix.