The former president was the keynote speaker at a gathering of the National Rifle Association (NRA), just 300 miles from the scene of Tuesday's tragedy. The convention boasted 14 acres of “the latest guns and gear”, including, no doubt, weapons similar to the AR15-style assault rifles a teenager used to mow down 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde.
In a chilling message to a friend on social media, the gunman, Salvador Ramos, told her of his intention to kill. "I just shot my grandma in her head,” he texted. Seconds later he added, "Ima go shoot up a(n) elementary school rn [right now]."
It is impossible to empathise with the anger and frustration that led a seemingly normal 18-year-old boy to commit such an unspeakable, inhumane crime. Just as it is impossible to truly to feel the terror of ten-year-old children cowering in a classroom, their friends lying dead next to them. Or the anguish of parents receiving the phone call that will change their lives forever.
But Donald Trump, and other senior Republican figures such as Texas senator, Ted Cruz, who was also slated to attend the gun jamboree, don’t even try. Their thoughts and prayers are not with the families of the dead children of Uvalde, but with Republican voters they need to woo for the mid-term elections in November.
As John Thomas, a Republican strategist told CNN, “the base needs to be reassured… that they’re not going to get their guns taken away”.
The United States of America is an exceptional, if schizophrenic, country, built on immigration, but also steeped in slavery. Its constitution promises its citizens the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right, and also gives teenagers the right to buy deadly military weapons on their 18th birthday.
It has given the world some of its most treasured icons, from Coca-Cola to iTunes, Elvis Presley to Martin Luther King. It’s the world largest donor of foreign aid, and George W Bush’s Pepfar initiative to tackle HIV and Aids has saved 20 million lives since 2003.
Its 50 states boast some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, and the energy and enthusiasm of its 330 million population is palpable, from the streets of Brooklyn and Atlanta to the small towns of North Dakota and Arizona.
And yet, despite its promise, there is a darkness at its heart. Since January 1, there have been 27 separate school shootings. Only a few days before the tragedy at Robb Elementary School, a gunman murdered ten people in a supermarket in Buffalo.
Homicide is the biggest cause of death for pregnant women, and 45,000 people died from gun violence in 2020. It has, by far, the biggest civilian ownership of firearms in the world, with 120 guns per 100 residents, which is why Trump and his wannabees cosy up to the gun lobby. It is a country at war with itself.
“It’s an amazing country, but it is also in deep trouble at the moment,” author and commentator David Rothkopf told me in the wake of the Uvalde massacre.
Rothkopf is the hugely respected host of Deep State Radio, a podcast that examines the inner workings of American power and its influence on the rest of the world. He loves his country; he is also fearful for its future. “It’s not the mental health of shooters that is killing our kids,” he tweeted on Thursday. “It’s the mental illness of our nation. Our gun culture is a sickness. We need to get help now.”
His prescription to save America is for the majority to work together to rebuild the country’s democracy.
“By all means, be angry. But then calculate how much time, money, effort you can give to vote out the Senators and Congressmen whose votes and corruption are killing our children,” he said on Twitter. “Add gun violence to the list of threats and ills we face. To the attacks on democracy, on our rights, on women, on people of colour… to the growing inequality, to the failures to recognise healthcare is a right, that we must protect our planet.
“But the responsibility to save the US… in fact, the only chance to reverse the decline and restore hope… lies with each of us. If we do not do rise up, if we do not accept responsibility, if we do not succeed, we will lose forever what we valued most about America.”
Stirring stuff, but how many of his fellow Americans will heed Rothkopf’s call to save their country? The mid-term elections in November will decide not only who controls the US Senate and House of Representatives, but the future of the world’s biggest country and, by extension, the rest of the world.
If the Republicans succeed, as the polls suggest they might, it will give succour to Trump and his far-right supporters. Another Trump presidency in 2024, whether it’s he who sits in the White House or his representative, will accelerate America’s descent in authoritarianism, and who knows where that might lead.
It’s all too easy to dismiss America as a crazy country, awash with guns, its politicians in the pockets of big business, its people harshly divided by race and income. All of this is true, up to a point. But it is also a country still under construction, with the potential to be, if not a perfect union, at least one the rest of the world can admire.
The 19 children gunned down on Tuesday will never fulfil their potential. The people of America have a few months to decide whether they have the courage to realise theirs or surrender to the forces of darkness.