Two consecutive American presidents have had to face the same, challenging situation — in back-to-back years, no less. Both President Obama and President Trump have had to give speeches in response to the largest mass shooting in American history. For Obama, it was the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub shooting last summer when 49 people died. For Trump, it was Sunday's at a country music festival in Las Vegas, where at least 50 people died — surpassing the former count. Both presidents spoke to the nation the following morning, but comparing Trump and Obama's mass shooting speeches, shows quite a difference.
The most remarkable differences stem from Obama's use of the word "terrorism" and his call for gun control. Trump didn't even use the word "gun." After the Pulse shooting Obama said:
The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.
Trump said nothing of the sort. Instead he used a religious overtone, calling what happened an "act of pure evil" with very few details about the investigation.
Obama instead spoke about a police event that was still developing. "We are still learning all the facts," Obama remarked. "This is an open investigation. We’ve reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer," Obama said while noting that he had been in touch with the FBI and the mayor of Orlando.
Obama, did however, speak a lot about hatred if not evil. "We know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate," Obama told the nation, describing the shooter in that same way. "I’ve directed that we must spare no effort to determine what—if any—inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups. What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred," Obama added. Trump's talk of evil is somewhat similar, but again there was no talk of terrorism, even "domestic terrorism."
They also overlapped in comforting the families of the victims. Trump directed a large section of his speech to them:
Hundreds of our fellow citizens are now mourning the sudden loss of a loved one. A parent, a child, a brother or sister. We cannot fathom their pain, we cannot imagine their loss. To the families of the victims, we are praying for you, and we are here for you, and we ask God to help see you through this very dark period.
He went on to offer a Bible verse as a way of finding solace. Obama on the other hand talked more directly about the victims — at one point recognizing that it was mostly LGBTQ Americans who were killed — and then he transitioned into words about their family. "Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families — that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable. And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change," Obama said.
Trump heavily used their loss several times throughout his speech. He said that many Americans are "now mourning the sudden loss of a loved one. A parent, a child, a brother or sister. We cannot fathom their pain, we cannot imagine their loss. To the families of the victims, we are praying for you, and we are here for you, and we ask God to help see you through this very dark period."
The other area where the two definitely overlap is the role of police and first responders at the scene. Obama spoke of the nation's profound gratitude to all the police and first responders who rushed into harm’s way. "Their courage and professionalism saved lives, and kept the carnage from being even worse," he said. Trump spoke in a similar vein.
Like Obama, he thanked the Las Vegas Police Department and all first responders, for helping "to save the lives of so many." The speed with which they acted is miraculous, and prevented further loss of life. To have found the shooter so quickly after the first shots were fired is something for which we will always be thankful and grateful. It shows what true professionalism is all about.The speed was "miraculous." Finding the shooter "so quickly after the first shots," he said, "shows what professionalism is all about."
Then both wrapped up with unity and togetherness. Obama said:
We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.
Trump, meanwhile, said that "our unity cannot be shattered by evil." Trump added, "Though we feel such great anger at the senseless murder of our fellow citizens, it is our love that defines us today and always will, forever." He went on to talk about a "meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness" or hope. Where that hope is to come from, was not all together clear.
Which speech is better is up for debate, but this moment is as clear as any case will be to compare and contrast the difference between the two men’s leadership styles.