President Donald Trump apparently needed a reminder to tell shooting survivors, “I hear you,” during a White House listening session on school shootings he hosted on Wednesday.
An Associated Press photographer snapped a photo of the president’s poorly hidden crib notes during the emotional discussion on Wednesday, which included prompts to ask questions about individuals’ experiences and what his administration could do to help people feel safe.
Survivors, students, and parents of victims of past school shootings — including the most recent massacre in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman murdered 17 — gathered at the White House to share their stories and ideas for protecting students from gun violence. Trump did listen intently to the survivors’ accounts throughout, and responded to suggestions and solutions about how to tackle the problem.
But he apparently needed a little guidance to keep him on track and help him through what was, in all fairness, a wrenching, emotional session.
Presidents are often called on to be the “consoler-in-chief.” Barack Obama reprised the role often in his presidency. Trump, still at the start of his first term, is no different. His scripted speeches — after a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice last summer; after the Parkland shooting last week — have urged unity, praised first responders, and called for healing and peace.
Yet away from the prepared remarks, the president has sometimes struggled with the other public duties of “consoler-in-chief.” After the shooting in Florida, he sent out a tweet that appeared to blame the students for failing to report warning signs about the gunman (though it was later reported that people had). He feuded with the London mayor in the wake of a terror attack on the city. Visiting a devastated Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, he infamously tossed out paper towels to hurricane survivors.
The crib notes are a reminder of Trump’s apparent discomfort in these intense situations. At the same time, they show an attempt to connect with these grieving families. And his professed openness to some gun control compromises — including background checks — reveals Trump’s also trying to respond to individuals’ concerns.
“I will always remember the time I spent today with courageous students, teachers and families,” Trump tweeted after the listening session. “So much love in the midst of so much pain. We must not let them down.”