Less Twitter, more teleprompter


By Clarence Page



As I watched various journalists, police, psychiatrists and other smart people on cable TV try to make sense of the senseless mass shooting in Las Vegas, an actor in a commercial popped up with a sound bite that sounded downright prophetic:

“How do we get ahead of crazy,” he said, “if we don’t know how crazy thinks?”

Amen, brother. The TV ad turned out to be a tease for an upcoming Netflix series called “Mindhunter.” Set in 1979, according to the advance publicity, the series will center on FBI agents who interview imprisoned serial killers, as one agent puts it, to “know how crazy thinks.”

The experts on TV and zillions of us who are watching at home were asking the same question. Everyone was trying to figure out what lunacy drove retired accountant and real estate developer Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, to kill at least 59 people and injure hundreds more at a country music festival.

With all due respect to those who find the word “crazy” to be insensitive, few other words capture the utter senselessness of the slaughter in Las Vegas. Police say he fired away at the crowd of more than 20,000 from his 32d floor hotel suite before he killed himself as a SWAT team broke into his room.

The horror of the tragedy was only compounded by the lack of any apparent motive for Paddock’s sick behavior. He wasn’t — that we know so far — a terrorist, religious fanatic or mental health patient. He was a “multimillionaire” accountant and real estate developer who liked to gamble, said his brother Eric, and “not an avid gun guy at all,” said brother Eric. “He’s just a guy who lived in Mesquite (a Nevada town 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas) who liked burritos.

It is particularly unsettling in our age of instant gratification and short attention spans to lack a quick and easy explanation for a mind-numbing tragedy.

As we have seen with earlier tragedies such as the Sandy Hook massacre of schoolchildren in Connecticut, PolitiFact reports a wave of paranoid theories and false reports that Paddock was a “liberal” or an agent of the Islamic State flooded the fever swamps of the internet.

At times of great despair, where do we turn for help in making sense of it all? Where do we go in our poverty of reliable information for uplifting calls of sympathy, empathy, unity, courage, safety and reassurance?

For one, we turn to the president. Can President Donald Trump step up to the job? He must. But this is a job for teleprompter Donald, not Twitter Trump.

We all know Twitter Trump. He’s the one who responded to a desperate plea from Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz Soto of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s largest city, after the island was hit by its worst hurricane in about a century by taking it personally.

“Save us from dying,” she said on CNN, to which Trump responded with a blame-the-victim tweet Saturday. He accused her of “poor leadership ability” and blamed Democrats for telling her to bash Trump. In fact, she did not even mention Trump by name. But Twitter Trump takes these things personally.

Twitter Trump apparently surprised Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over the weekend with a tweet saying Tillerson was wasting his time trying to negotiate with “Little Rocket Man,” Trump’s nickname for North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done.”

Gee, thanks. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, Twitter Trump pokes his Twitter stick at an erratic nuclear power.

Fortunately, however, after Twitter Trump’s initially awkward tweet of “warmest condolences” to the victims and families in Las Vegas, teleprompter Trump stepped up later in the day with a well-prepared statement.

“In moments of tragedy and horror, America comes together as one, and it always has,” he said, reading from the text. “We call upon the bonds that unite us: our faith, our family and our shared values; we call upon the bonds of citizenship, the ties of community and the comfort of our common humanity.”

There was more, but you get the idea. The president can sound like a serious statesman when he wants to. In his campaign he ridiculed President Barack Obama and others who use teleprompters. But Trump should try it more often. Or, at least, he should learn to think before he tweets.

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By Clarence Page

Clarence Page is a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. Readers may send him email at cpage@chicagotribune.com. Column courtesy of the Associated Press.

Clarence Page is a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. Readers may send him email at cpage@chicagotribune.com. Column courtesy of the Associated Press.