Trump’s Tense Visit to Dayton After the Mass Shooting
Dayton seemed split over whether it wanted the president to come at all. Normally, presidential visits following a national tragedy are widely welcomed, and they follow a familiar pattern: The president arrives, shakes hands with local leaders, and delivers a consoling message.
But in Dayton, it was clear before Trump‘s arrival that he brought so much baggage to the task it’d be near-impossible for him to pull it off. The danger was that he would redirect attention away from the community he was supposed to comfort. Which is what happened: With Trump the most polarizing president of modern times, the visit wound up aggravating tensions rather than unifying a stricken city.
Early this morning, former Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, spoke to reporters near the bar. Asked about Trump’s appearance, he sounded wary. Trump had delivered a scripted speech in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room on Monday denouncing bigotry and emphasizing mental illness and violent video games as root causes of gun violence. Then, after the teleprompter was packed away, he reverted to partisan attacks. Last night, he spent time on Twitter mocking the poll numbers of Democratic presidential candidate and Trump critic Beto O’Rourke, whose former congressional district includes El Paso. This morning, he complained about The New York Times’s headline writing.
I asked Kasich about Trump’s behavior following the speech. “Look, as a leader, sometimes you have to have a stiff upper lip,” said Kasich, whose term ended earlier this year. “You can’t be a sensitive, thin-skinned operator … You’ve got to be bigger than other people, and not take the bait.”
Within just a few hours, Trump’s appearance in Dayton predictably devolved into a bitter dispute. After Trump toured the hospital with Mayor Nan Whaley and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, the two Democrats held a televised news conference and spoke critically about him. “A lot of the time, his talk can be very divisive and that’s the last thing we need in Dayton,” Whaley said. Watching TV en route to El Paso, Trump tweeted insults at both. “Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud,” Trump wrote.
Feelings on the street were raw. During another Kasich press interview, Luong Vo, 69, sat behind him on a bicycle, holding a sign that read, “Save Our City.” Like others in the Rust Belt, Dayton has struggled. Since 1980, its population has fallen to 141,000, a 27 percent decrease. Dayton recorded 577 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2017, one of the highest in the nation per capita. Ken Dillingham, the pastor of LifeWay church, told me that church staff carry the medication Narcan in the event of an overdose.
As Kasich walked off, Vo stopped him and, in anguished tones, told him that the city is in crisis. Kasich put a hand on his shoulder. “There are more jobs down here, more businesses,” said the ex-governor, who lost to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. “Politicians are destroying the city,” Vo said.