It has now been four years since 20 children and six adults were massacred by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. To call the annual marking of something so devastating an anniversary feels strange, but Wednesday was an anniversary all the same.
In the years since Sandy Hook, a number of states have taken small steps to better regulate access to guns, but Congress has done nothing, absolutely nothing, to make it any more difficult for a man to access a small arsenal and murder children in an act of blind and inexplicable violence, or buy a gun and kill nine black congregants with their heads bowed in prayer at a church in South Carolina, or methodically stock up on firearms and ammo before killing 49 people at a LGBTQ nightclub in Florida.
In a statement posted to Facebook on Wednesday, President Obama said of the Sandy Hook victims: “We’re still inspired by the survivors and the families who have worked to make a difference. And we’ve tried to change.” Members of Congress, journalists, and regular people did the same.
Donald Trump, our president-elect, shared a picture of Bill Gates and former NFL player Jim Brown.
Tweets of remembrance are small, performative things. And so Trump’s silence about Sandy Hook may seem like a small matter.
But it’s much bigger than a tweet, of course. Trump received millions from the National Rifle Association and spent his campaign rallying “Second Amendment people” with assurances that there would be no room for gun reform under his administration.
It was also during his campaign that Trump sat for an interview with right-wing conspiracy theorist, InfoWars founder, and Sandy Hook denier, Alex Jones. (Jones has called the mass shooting “synthetic, completely fake with actors, in my view, manufactured.”)
In his December 2015 interview with Jones, Trump praised his “amazing” reputation, and told him: “I will not let you down.” (Jones also said that Trump personally called him after the election to thank him for “fighting so hard for Americans”.)
Trump has done, and will do, much worse than ignoring the anniversary of a massacre that killed 20 six and seven-year-olds. But his silence is a reminder that the president-elect uses Twitter not only as a weapon, but to signal his priorities and to air his grudges.
Eight years of a president actively pushing for gun reform did not move Congress to act. The next four under a man who has vowed to do the opposite will likely mean more of the same, or the possible weakening of the few laws we already have in place.
Meanwhile, survivors of Sandy Hook and other mass shootings watch as their personal traumas play out again and again on a loop, for other people, other families.
Or as Abbey Clements, who hid in her classroom with her 17 students and listened to each of the 154 shots fired that day, told me earlier this year: “The anger is just, like, visceral. You just can’t believe… you can’t believe it’s happening again, even though you know it can.”
By Thursday, Trump had already turned his attention elsewhere.