Following the October 2015 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College outside of Roseburg, Oregon in which eight college students and a professor were killed, then-President Barack Obama offered more – and wanted way more – than “thoughts and prayers” as so many politicians had done following such tragedies.
Obama then added, “It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America next week or a couple of months from now.”
Obama’s “Thoughts and Prayers” to Those in Hawaii
Earlier this month, Obama did employ the signature line while adding that more needs to be done for the people on the Hawaiian island of Maui, following devastating wildfires that killed more than 100 people.
“As someone who grew up in Hawaii, someone who has taken my family to enjoy the incredible beauty of that island and the hospitality of the people of Lahaina, we now find ourselves mourning the lives that are lost,” the former president said in a video message. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families that have lost so much.”
Obama, who grew up in Honolulu, continued. “The thing about it is though, thoughts and prayers in a moment like this are not enough. We have to step up. And we have to help those families, and we have to help Lahaina rebuild.”
Empty Words by Obama?
It could be argued that “thoughts and prayers” following any tragedy or notable incident are just empty words, and they remain hollow without further reaction. However, the former president has also been accused of politicizing such commentary.
According to a 2019 Washington Post analysis, “After Barack Obama’s criticism in 2015, The Post found that the tenor of the tweets became angrier, more sarcastic and polarizing. Many people castigated those who used the phrase.”
The paper of record reportedly analyzed more than 600,000 tweets containing the phrase “thoughts and prayers” between 2012 and 2019 and found that “the expression has become a political flashpoint on social media.”
The Post reported, “Genuine usage appeared to hit its lowest point between 2017 and 2018, a time frame that included a string of six mass shootings just months apart, beginning with the attack in Las Vegas that killed 58 people. After a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas left eight students and two teachers dead, more than 80 percent of tweets condemned the usage of ‘thoughts and prayers.'”
In other words, even trying to appear sympathetic could serve as a catalyst for ridicule. As a result, some people have remained silent, which can seem to suggest a lack of empathy toward victims of a tragedy.
This is why it has become a no-win situation for politicians. President Joe Biden was called out by the mainstream media after he responded with a curt “no comment” when asked about the wildfires in Hawaii. It has been reported that he didn’t hear the question, but that begs the question of why he still responded as he did. It would seem Biden did not want to simply offer thoughts and prayers again — he had already stated as much days earlier. Lacking a response when caught off guard, Biden went in an even worse direction.
It has been increasingly said, especially in our ever-more-woke society, that “words matter.”
Of course, it could be argued that actions matter more. Perhaps that is the point Obama has been trying to make all along.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
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