Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019 | 2 a.m.
One of the most totemic pictures of the Obama era was a White House photo showing the president bowing to let a 5-year-old black child touch his hair.
As Jackie Calmes reported in The Times, the boy, the son of a departing National Security Council staffer, had shyly told Barack Obama, “I want to know if my hair is just like yours.”
“Touch it, dude!” the president said.
It was a moment that summed up all the giddy dreams about race and modernity and a gleaming American future that propelled a freshman senator with an exotic name into office.
Now, one of the most totemic pictures of the Trump era has been tweeted by Melania Trump from the El Paso hospital visited by the first couple amid the blood-dimmed tide of back-to-back gun massacres in Texas and Dayton.
The first lady is holding 2-month-old Paul Anchondo, whose parents, Jordan and Andre, died shielding him from a shooter who confessed to the police that he drove from his home in Allen, Texas, to El Paso to kill Mexicans with an AK-47-style rifle. A manifesto he posted on 8chan, an online forum that’s a haven for white nationalists, stated that he wanted to stop the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
President Donald Trump, standing next to Melania and the baby in the picture, is grinning and giving a thumbs-up.
The infant’s uncle, Tito Anchondo, told reporters that he brought Paul to the hospital to meet Trump, while other victims refused to do so, because he wanted to tell the president about the pain of the family. His slain brother, he said, was a Trump supporter. He told The Washington Post that he felt consoled by Trump.
But still, there is something sickening about the photo. The picture of Obama with a child was luminous with hope and idealism. The one of Trump with a child was dark with pain and shattered ideals.
Devoid of empathy and humanity, Trump is mugging with an infant who will never know his parents. They were shot by a psychopath whose views echoed Trump’s dangerous and vile rants painting people with darker skin — like the baby’s father — as the enemy, an infestation and invasion aiming to take something away from real Americans. It is the same slimy chum thrown out by other Republicans, only more brutally direct and not limited to campaign season.
Even as we absorbed the grotesque image from the hospital, we had to watch the heart-rending footage of Hispanic children sobbing and stranded in Mississippi because their parents, many working at a chicken processing plant, had been rounded up by ICE.
The Post featured a disturbing headline Aug. 5 about a new study: “Risk of Premature Birth Increased for Latinas After Trump’s Election.” The story said, “Researchers have begun to identify correlations between Trump’s election and worsening cardiovascular health, sleep problems, anxiety and stress, especially among Latinos in the United States.”
The shining city on a hill is an ugly pile of rubble.
Even on this most tragic of weeks for so many families, Trump was obsessing on himself, on his crowd size compared with Beto O’Rourke’s, and on whether he was getting enough obeisance from Ohio pols.
It defies one’s faith in the good sense and decency of America that we cannot stop the deluge of shooting rampages — even at a time of unprecedented weakness for the National Rifle Association and the loathsome Wayne LaPierre, with the gun lobby awash in coup attempts and corruption.
Gun control has the aspect of an intractable problem when it is anything but. Inexplicably and abhorrently, we have decided to live with periodic human sacrifices. That became clear in 2012 in Newtown, Conn., after the slaughter of the “beautiful babies,” as Joe Biden called the dead first-graders. If that didn’t shock the soul enough to act, what could?
We’ve heard Trump talk about talking sense into NRA officials three times now, during the 2016 campaign and after the Parkland shooting and again Friday after his sympathy calls in Dayton and El Paso. The first two times, he caved to the NRA quickly.
Yet temperamentally, Nixon-to-China, Trump is suited to that job. Even though he’s a belligerent, he’s not so enamored of war and guns. “My sons love hunting,” he once tweeted. “I don’t.” He’s no gun nut; he’s a former Democrat from New York who likes to golf.
If he wanted to lead a crusade to get real background checks — or even a ban on assault weapons, which he said in a 2000 book that he favored — he would be formidable.
There is some movement now because the Republicans are scared — not of the shooters but of suburban voters.
For the most part, Republicans are gun owners and Democrats aren’t. But Republican voters are more supportive of common-sense gun control than elected members, who are wallowing with the swamp creatures at the NRA.
Mitch McConnell, Dr. No, won’t want to do anything; his spokesman was backing away Friday. That same day, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, John Barrasso, pumped the brakes on possible inroads, background checks and red-flag laws.
If the president and Republicans come up with anything at all, it will be a remedy just marginal enough to give themselves cover, denying Democrats a powerful campaign issue.
Moscow Mitch and Dreadful Donald will keep talking compromise and hope that things settle down by September, when Congress gets back.
But point-blank: Our Republican leaders are cowards.
We shouldn’t let things die down. Because people keep dying.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.