In the wake of the devastating shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida on February 14th, President Donald Trump has been ridiculed for ignoring the victims’ funerals, tweeting about the Russia investigation, and offering little more than thoughts and prayers. But the president appears to be trying to change that. On February 20th, Trump spoke out in favor of banning bump stocks, and on February 21st he held a listening session to discuss gun control reform. However, photos of Trump’s listening session notes seem to reveal that the president needed reminders of basic empathy.
Professional photographers captured the handwritten notes on camera. The list, written on official White House letterhead, consists of questions for Trump to ask the attendees of the session, who included survivors of past school shootings and family members of victims. The list of questions included: “What would you most want me to know about your experience?” “What can we do to help you feel safe?” “and even, “I hear you.”
During the listening session, Trump proposed arming teachers who had firearms training. He also advocated for more mental health institutions. Throughout the session, he listened to attendees’ concerns and responded. After the session, he tweeted that he would “always remember” the experience of talking to the survivors and victims’ families.
I will always remember the time I spent today with courageous students, teachers and families. So much love in the midst of so much pain. We must not let them down. We must keep our children safe!!
Full Listening Session: https://t.co/x5VenyQX5p pic.twitter.com/CAPfX5odIp
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2018
This AP photo shows more of what’s on Trump’s notes. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) pic.twitter.com/mxqqteRdhs
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 22, 2018
The backlash over Trump’s listening session notes was swift.
Many tweeted that the notes were a sign of the president’s pronounced lack of empathy.
It's really telling of his moral character that Donald Trump needs notes to express empathy. It's one thing to read off a teleprompter for a speech on policy, it's another thing to need a written reminder in your hand to tell victims of a mass shooting that you hear them.
— Caroline (@ckahearn07) February 22, 2018
We could easily see you notes, cameras are amazing! So you need to be reminded to show empathy? This shows America your words do not come from your heart! Your only and primary concern is Donald Trump and how this effects me, sick and pathetic way to be. I feel sorry for you.
— Malcolm Meacham (@MalcolmMeacham) February 22, 2018
Donald Trump sympathizes with the families via crib notes. Staged empathy #IHearYou
scripted empathy is far worse than no empathy at all????
— Modibe Modiba (@mmodiba10) February 22, 2018
Jeannette .. notes are one thing but having actual answers see #5 "I hear you" ? Donald Trump is a narcissist .. He has no way to feel or express empathy .. it's very very SAD for our country
— Donna Leahy (@DonnaTri) February 22, 2018
Donald Trump has to get notes written for him to explain how empathy works and I can't even watch the audience at the CNN town hall tear apart Marco Rubio. #CNNTownHall
— ???? Tina Gibson ???? (@tinabgibby) February 22, 2018
It stands to reason that Donald Trump needs a prompt to show any empathy. https://t.co/RckGaQ4jFd
— Justin Hendrix (@justinhendrix) February 21, 2018
And other Twitter users even joked that the listening session notes proved Trump is a crisis actor.
Donald Trump... crisis actor. Complete with script...#IHearYou
— BOOSH63 (@booshmeister) February 21, 2018
— ????? Alicia Roberts????? (@Krobswife) February 21, 2018
Trump has a long track record of less-than-empathetic responses in the face of tragedy. After a woman was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, Trump said that there was violence “on many sides.” And in June, Trump criticized London Mayor Sadiq Khan after a recent bombing, taking Khan’s response to the bombing out of context. But the idea that Trump might need notes to express empathy toward shooting victims is astonishing. We hope that the president will learn to say “I hear you” without needing a cue card.