Op-ed: The empathy deficit disorder

  • By Bob Franken
  • Monday, February 26, 2018 1:37pm
  • Opinion

The skeptics among us, and I’m one of them, will say that the White House “listening event” for those directly affected by mass killings was contrived by Donald Trump’s image-makers. Look no further than the notecard he foolishly left out for cameras to see. It listed five reminders for him to show empathy. Since it’s obvious that Donald Trump has severe EDD, they probably were necessary, including No. 5, which was a suggestion that he say, at some point, “I hear you.”

For once, he followed the script. The upshot was the rare appearance of Trump displaying presidential leadership. Unfortunately, when it comes to guns, he’s leading us in the wrong direction. Of all the suggestions that flowed from those whose raw emotions came from the wrenching loss of children or friends, the suggestion he seemed to embrace the most was the one that would lead to more lethal hardware out there, not less. That means it’s the one that is most encouraged by the National Rifle Association and the other merchants of death.

The proposal would arm teachers and other adults in the schools with their own weapons. They’d somehow be trained to effectively stop an assailant by shooting him or her in the critical few minutes before first responders arrived. Or not. No mention of whether they’d be using pistols or assault rifles. The NRA opposes any limits on assault rifles, even though they are the choice of most mass murderers. Therefore, the trembling politicians refuse to prohibit them.

At least no one is advocating that the students themselves bring their own. Or are they? Even the idea of the teacher, coach or janitor packing heat is considered so dopey that virtually every teacher, coach or janitor organization hates the idea. And now we find out that there was an armed presence at the school: a deputy sheriff, presumably trained. What does the video show that he did? He apparently hid. That’s what he did.

Obscene dopiness dishonors the victims of each and every bloodbath. In the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting, some of the gun fanatics out there — the really beastly ones — are trolling social media and sadly gaining traction with their absurd claim that student leaders are really just “actors,” hired by liberals — or, in the case of 17-year-old David Hogg, a “crisis actor.” Hogg is a survivor from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, where 17 died. He has emerged as a leader of the young people movement determined to break through the timid-politics-as-usual barricades that wall off any meaningful reform. Of course, the gun nuts believe that he must be discredited. So he’s labeled a “crisis actor.”

It’s that type of abuse along the lawless frontier of social media that has caused Twitter to be the latest to do a mild purge of its most blatantly phony accounts. Guess who’s up in, uh, arms over this? You got it: the right-wing extremists who are hashtagging their outrage. One of them is #Twitterlockout. May I recommend #idiotic? Even the Russians, who flood American politics with disruptive anti-social media, are whining #Naglost, which is the Russian word for “chutzpah.”

The passion of many gun owners knows few bounds. Predictably, the NRA is firing back. A new video ad rips into us journalists: “The mainstream media love mass shootings” because they “juice their ratings and push their agenda.”

Meanwhile, Wayne LaPierre, who heads the group, told a conservative gathering that “Evil walks among us, And God help us if we don’t harden our schools and protect our kids.” Like that deputy sheriff “hardened” the school he was protecting, maybe? President Trump doubled down, saying that school officials who agree to take up arms might get “a bonus.” Now we’re talking.

The students are beginning their crusade to make a difference. The truth is that so far, little has changed.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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