If Trump had failed to visit El Paso, liberals would surely be criticizing him, rightly, for his absence. So it isn’t his presence alone that makes the photograph odious. First there are the smiles, so chipper in the aftermath of mass murder. For some reason, this Trump smile calls to mind the one in his famous tweeted portrait in which he’s eating a taco bowl (“I love Hispanics!”) served by Trump Tower Grill. Then there is the thumbs-up, also present to signal approval of the taco bowl, and in this case to signal approval of what, exactly? The narrow survival of the infant? The heroism of the hospital staff and first responders who cared for the wounded? Somehow neither of these possibilities seems quite right, and contemplation has brought me no closer to a better answer. I do not imagine that Trump is applauding the slaughter. But few gestures are appropriate for both a taco bowl and the death of a baby’s parents.
Out of context, the photo looks like a portrait of a family, with proud parents or grandparents awkwardly posing next to a new baby. In all such photos, the baby participates unwittingly. But in this one, his conscription is grotesque, and his lack of expression nauseating to behold. The vacancy of his stare is somehow more crushing than if he were bawling, and thereby showing some awareness of his loss. Does he know that his parents will never come back? Does he know that these plastic people, grinning in his parents’ place, will hand him to relatives and never come back either? Does he know that one of them called people who looked like his parents “invaders,” the same word used by the killer who shot them dead at a Walmart?