Given fast and clear indications that Virginia shooter James T. Hodgkinson was a would-be assassin of Republicans and someone who deplored President Donald Trump, the “what about” debates spread quickly.
These days, political talk runs to slogans and memes and tasteless snark with stunning speed. And even before you judge its merits, you can see the amazing speed at which the discussion gets polarized all over various media.
Shortly after the shooting ceased, some Republicans called for “toning down” violent anti-Trump rhetoric.
Critics replied: What about when Sarah Palin put a crosshairs image on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords before she was shot in 2011?
Reply: What about assassinations of police officers uninvolved in brutality after the reactive rhetoric of the Black Lives Matter movement?
Reply: What about the controversial remarks of Trump at that campaign rally when he referred coyly at a rally to Second Amendment advocates and Hillary Clinton?
And the “what abouts” rolled on, in hundreds and thousands of Twitter and Facebook posts.
What about terrorists?
What about gun control?
What about mental illness?
Someone even caustically linked the violence to the health care bill.
Especially but not exclusively because the targeted victims were members of Congress playing ball early in the morning, reaction from the top echelons in Washington D.C. in their statements amounted to an emotional consensus if not a political one.
Trump: “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.”
Trump underscored his friendship with wounded Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), heaped praise on the Capitol Police, including their injured, and other emergency responders. He informed the nation that Hodgkinson had been killed.
Hodgkinson was a Bernie Sanders supporter, judging by his social-media postings and statements of family and acquaintances.
Sanders: “I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign.
“I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”
He too extended hope and prayers to Scalise, others wounded, and the Capitol Police. So did Hillary Clinton and Gabrielle Giffords and other political activists, elected and unelected.
Meanwhile, millions can try to read meaning into the now-viral identity of the deceased shooter: A 66-year-old married man from Belleville, Illinois, who owned a home-inspection business and was in the capital region for political protest.
He called Republicans “racist” and had run-ins with authorities because of domestic violence and, in March, because he reportedly was shooting off his rifle with homes nearby.
By all accounts he had a valid license for the firearm.
At least one of his posted Facebook memes expressed hostility toward Hillary Clinton. Alongside unflattering photos of her and Trump, it said: “If only there was a way for both of them to lose.” He stated above it, “Vote for Jill Stein!”
Earlier, Hodgkinson “liked” a cartoon online lampooning Scalise as a KKK sympathizer.
Take from all that what you will — fresh from the age of instant information and short salvos of debate.