“I know they feel like there’s a black hole in their chest they’re being sucked into, and things will never get better,” he said. “But our prayers are with you. And I assure you, the one you lost will always be with you, always be with you.”
The president’s ability to project empathy toward those who are suffering stands in contrast to Mr. Trump, who struggled to convey a sense of somber support at such moments. (His grinning, thumbs-up photograph at a hospital after a mass shooting in El Paso generated a backlash of angry commentary about his visit.) During a campaign played out against a backdrop of grief because of the pandemic, Mr. Biden often accused his opponent of having no real empathy for those who were suffering.
Mr. Biden also accused his predecessor of embracing and fomenting the very racial strife that has roiled the country and inspired acts of violence like the one that erupted across Atlanta on Tuesday. It was Mr. Trump’s reaction to racist violence in 2017 in Charlottesville, Va. — and especially his comment about “good people” among the white supremacist rioters — that motivated him to run for president, Mr. Biden has often said.
Moments of mourning after mass shootings can be a special challenge for any president. They require the ability to comfort those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones while at the same time offering optimism and hope to a nation that is often badly shaken by the horror of what has just happened.
In 2012, after 20 young children were killed by a gunman in Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama concluded remarks at a memorial service by slowly reading their names, one by one, while some in the audience wept.
Three years later, after finishing his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was gunned down along with eight others during a Bible study in a Charleston, S.C., church, Mr. Obama sang some of “Amazing Grace,” bringing the church to its feet and touching the heart of the country.
Much like that moment, Mr. Biden now faces not only a gruesome killing spree, but an episode wrapped in racial tensions. And like during Mr. Obama’s tenure, the words of empathy will be followed by tough questions about what the federal government can or should do to prevent the tragic scene from being repeated again.
Sabrina Tavernise contributed reporting from Atlanta.