The nation’s contentious and heated political environment exploded into a spasm of violence Wednesday when a man opened fire on a group of congressmen practicing in a suburban D.C. park for the annual House baseball game.
Will this senseless violence ultimately help cool the passions of those floating on the political extremes who seem incapable of understanding or accepting opposing views? Petulance, anger and shouting too often overwhelm thoughtful debate today.
The inevitable finger-pointing will serve little purpose. No one viewpoint, party or movement is responsible for the actions of a deranged killer. It is impossible, however, to ignore what apparently drove this tragedy. The gunman reportedly inquired as to the political affiliation of the politicians on the field. When told they were Republicans, he proceeded to carry out the shooting.
Four people were shot, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. All are expected to survive. Two Capitol Hill police officers on protective detail for Rep. Scalise took down the suspect. One of the officers was among the wounded and no doubt the armed presence prevented a more horrific outcome.
The authorities identified the assailant as a 66-year-old Illinois man, James T. Hodgkinson III. Police said Hodgkinson had authored several anti-Trump social media posts and once apparently volunteered to work on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. The Belleville News-Democrat in his hometown reported he was a member on Facebook of several anti-Republican groups.
President Trump called for unity. “We may have our differences,” he said, “but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country.”
Speaker Paul Ryan received cheers on the House floor when he said, “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” adding, “We do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber. For all the noise and fury, we are one family.”
For a day, at least.
Political violence is woven throughout the nation’s history. But today’s culture of immediate gratification, nourished by the 24/7 news cycle, social media and the internet, has deepened divisions and so coarsened our level of discourse that routine disagreement has become fair game for nastiness and malicious vitriol. The proliferation of Twitter and other platforms has had a profound affect on human interaction, retarding the ability of many people to engage respectfully in an offline setting and encouraging them to dehumanize those with whom they disagree.
On Wednesday, the nation came together to condemn a heinous act. Partisans from across the political spectrum called for activists to “step back” and dial down the rhetoric. But as time marches forward, any such pause is likely to be temporary.
And then what?