“He was hunting us.” Those were the words of Republican Congressman Mike Bishop describing the depraved gun assault on members of Congress while they were innocently fielding ground balls and practicing base hits on a suburban Virginia field. The politics of personal destruction became literal.
Within a few hours, the president and congressional leadership put aside bitter partisanship and spoke of what unites us a nation. President Donald Trump noted, “We may have our differences, 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” and that “our children deserve to grow up in a nation of safety and peace and that we are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, his voice sometimes choked with emotion, said, “My colleagues, there are many memories from this day we will want to forget, and many images we will not want to see again. But there is one image in particular that this House should keep. And that is a photo I saw of our Democratic colleagues gathered in prayer this morning after hearing the news.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom the dead gunman had admired and worked for, announced that he was “sickened by this despicable act.”
A few years ago, these reaffirmations of shared values would have been mere platitudes. Today, they are candles flickering in the fierce gales that are transforming our politics.
The New York Times editorial board the following morning gave a nod toward civility by acknowledging that conservatives and “right-wing media” were right “to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals.” But then they tainted their momentary lapse into fairness with a false debating point that Jared Lee Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabby Giffords, was more incited by Sarah Palin than James Hodgkinson had been by his diet of political extremism. Actually, there is no evidence that the mentally ill Loughner had ever been influenced by Palin’s “target map” of districts, and by recycling this bit of left-wing agitprop, The New York Times contributes to the very extremism it is purporting to condemn. So does every right-wing outlet that feeds the narrative of “civil war” and catastrophism that has characterized some Trump partisans.
People often condemn “senseless violence,” as if there were some forms of violence that make sense.
When leaders of movements justify violence for political ends, they offer cover to borderline individuals inclined to commit horrific acts. Many of the Islamic terrorists who blow up concerts and restaurants, for example, turn out to be criminals looking for justification for their aggression. Can we seriously claim that the incitement circulated by al-Qaida and ISIS plays no role? James Hodgkinson had previously been arrested on “suspicion of battery, domestic battery, criminal damage of property and reckless discharge of a firearm.” He was a fuse waiting for a spark. Are we ready to say that the hysterical anti-Trump diatribes he was swallowing didn’t push him over the edge?
A conservative worldview presupposes that domestic tranquility is an accomplishment, not the default state of human relations. Everyone who flirts with extremism — from President Trump granting legitimacy to Alex Jones and others, to the left indulging in assassination porn — is fraying the delicate bonds that keep us one nation, and one nation at peace with itself.
Writes for Creators Syndicate.