After terrorist attack on church in Texas, will Trump press for extreme vetting of U.S. military recruits?

Needless to say, that’s a rhetorical question.

The Pentagon (and Trump) will no doubt be satisfied that a malcontent like Devin Patrick Kelley was kicked out of the Air Force, rather than questioning how he joined.

Trump has already indicated that he views the Texas shooting as not even related to guns — let alone terrorism:

Donald Trump has blamed Sunday’s deadly mass shooting at a Baptist church in Texas on the mental health of the perpetrator and claimed that gun ownership was not a factor.

Asked during a press conference in Tokyo what policies he would support to tackle mass shootings in the US, the president said: “I think that mental health is a problem here. Based on preliminary reports, this was a very deranged individual with a lot of problems over a very long period of time.

“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries, but this isn’t a guns situation … we could go into it but it’s a little bit soon to go into it. Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was, it would have been much worse.

“This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very sad event … these are great people at a very, very sad event, but that’s the way I view it.”

Is it a mental health problem, a gun problem, or a terrorism problem?

Unlike many observers, I hesitate to slap the label “terrorism” on every mass shooting in America. Why? Because terrorism, for as long as it remains a meaningful term (and that itself is a debatable issue), needs an ideological component. For the perpetrator to appropriately be called a terrorist, he (and it’s invariably he, rather than she) must be driven by some kind of belief system.

Since Devin Patrick Kelley is already dead, we may never be certain of his motives for murdering 26 churchgoers, but the testimony of former classmates strongly suggests he was a militant atheist and thus his hostility to religion may have been the determining factor in how he selected his target. So, at face value this shooting has a more obvious ideological component than does, for instance, the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas.

A terrorism problem? Yes.

A gun issue? “Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was, it would have been much worse.”

Indeed. Likewise, if no one had a gun — if Kelley and all the churchgoers had been armed with knives — there would have been no shooting, and probably no deaths.

The argument in favor of self-defense cannot be separated from the issue of the availability of deadly weapons.

So let’s get real: of course this is a gun issue.

A mental health problem?

Nowadays a lot of people balk at this explanation because it seems like a double standard is at play when Muslims get collectively blamed for terrorism carried out in the name of Islam, and yet the violence of white men is invariably viewed as something that has no connection with any wider trends in a white-dominated society.

Social trends, however, can hardly be discounted as irrelevant. While gun violence is a major problem in black America, the perpetrators of mass shootings are rarely black. The typical shooter is usually a white guy whose misanthropic rage swelled in isolation.

The obvious is worth stating: however Kelley might have described his own motives, we can be certain he was unhappy.

Unhappiness can metastasize and in the extreme turn into murderous violence and yet we vastly underestimate the problem of unhappiness itself if we reduce our concerns about mental health to the problem of mass shootings.

The sorry state of America’s collective mental health, is not just implicated in an epidemic of mass shootings; it has also resulted in the choice of a president who so often seethes with rage and foments hostility at home and abroad.

Trump’s anger is his own mental health problem, but given his unique position he has an unparalleled capacity to foster a contagion of discontent across this nation, manifesting in meanness, bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and potentially acts of mass violence.

While Trump should not be viewed as the root of all America’s problems, the harm he has already done, renders him incapable of healing national divisions he so persistently strives to widen.

Fear can bring people together, but this isn’t the foundation of real unity. What unifies us is the recognition that our common interests matter more than the things that make us stand apart.

Predictably, Trump is using the Texas tragedy to rally American national pride, yet what America dearly needs has far less to do with its national virtues than with a basic sense of humanity.

Love and kindness are resources on which every society depends, while fear and hatred shatter our human bonds.

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