KEVIN LEININGER: Whether in Fort Wayne, El Paso or Dayton, the blame game is just too easy to play

US President Donald Trump branded the El Paso shooting 'an act of cowardice' [John Locher/AP Photo]
Malinda Pagel
Kevin Leininger

Coming less than a month after the city’s first “Anthony Wayne Day,” surely we can blame last week’s vandalism of Historic Fort Wayne — someone spray-painted “no pride in native genocide” on its wooden facade — on those who, like the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, publicly branded the celebration as culturally insensitive and “socially contemptible.”

Can’t we?

Not so fast, cautioned fort spokeswoman Malinda Pagel. Although she acknowledged there could be a connection between the controversial July 16 event and the first political defacing of the fort in her memory, possibility is not the same as proof. “Your guess is as good as mine,” she said. “This came out of the blue.”

All of which proves Pagel possesses a lot more sense than many media commentators and Democratic presidential candidates.

Despite acknowledging that “there are still details that we are waiting on,” Beto O’Rourke nevertheless wasted no time suggesting President Trump had blood on his hands following the murder of at least 22 people in El Paso, allegedly by a man with a hatred of Hispanic immigrants. Trump “is a racist and he stokes racism in this country,” O’Rourke asserted.

Not to be outdone, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg called out “white nationalist terrorism” and suggested such people feel “validated” by the president.

“We need to call out the president himself for advancing racism and white supremacy,” agreed Elizabeth Warren.

“We have a president of the United States who is particularly responsible,” said Corey Booker.

“(Trump) has created a national emergency of rampant white nationalism across the country,” warned Kirsten Gillibrand.

There’s more where that came from — much, much more — but you get the picture: Trump’s racism and xenophobia are getting people killed, aided and abetted by the indifference (or worse) of his supporters who, according to former George H.W. Bush Treasury official Bruce Bartlett and others, are all racists, too.

I don’t know which is scarier: the possibility that these would-be presidents are cynical enough to spout such dangerous nonsense for political gain or the possibility that they actually believe it. Either way, most of the Democratic presidential field is so far removed from reality that socialist Bernie Sanders actually sounded like the voice of reason.

“I am sure President Trump does not want anybody in this country to go around shooting other people,” the Vermont senator said. “But what he has got to understand is that when you have language that is racist, that is virulently anti-immigrant, there are mentally unstable people in this country who see that as a sign to do terrible, terrible things.”

Trump has indeed made the use of reckless, inflammatory and overly personal rhetoric an art form, and if his words have not been overtly racist — it’s not inherently racist for a white to criticize blacks and Hispanics, or vice versa — his approach could indeed be misinterpreted by those unable or unwilling to control their worst impulses.

But as my admittedly tongue-in-cheek reference to the fort vandalism was intended to show, anyone can play this game and probably will as long shameless opportunism overwhelms self-control.

Sanders is right: There is a link between reckless words and dangerous deeds. That’s why those concerned about police brutality should not get a pass when they publicly shout their desire for dead cops. It’s why those who wage war in he name of religion should not be absolved in the name of cultural sensitivity or diversity. And, yes, it’s why this or any other president should focus on policy, not personalities. Calling for secure borders is not racist, but Trump has made it too easy for opponents to construe some of what he said said as such.

So instead of mourning the victims in El Paso and Dayton and searching for real solutions (as opposed to feel-good hand-wringing), Americans are once again being divided in ways that encourage fantasy at the expense of reality. Anyone willing to wait for the facts would have discovered, according to the Washington Post, that the Texas shooter claims he “maintained his white supremacist ideology for many years, predating President Trump . . . which he said did not influence” his crime.

Time also has shown, according to news reports, that the killer of nine people in Dayton on Sunday did not like Trump but was instead a supporter of socialism and Elizabeth Warren. Should conservatives try to make something of that now, too?

In the end, it’s the people who pulled the triggers who are truly culpable. But if our current or would-be leaders would talk less and listen more, perhaps they would find some wisdom, humility and even a little common humanity in the blissful relative silence.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.