Good Morning
Good Morning

U.S. politics must be a debate, not a war

First responders on the scene following a shooting

First responders on the scene following a shooting in Alexandria, Virginia. Credit: EPA / MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Once again, our politics have come to violence.

A 66-year-old gunman consumed by dislike for President Donald Trump and Republicans Wednesday fired at a team of GOP congressmen and senators practicing on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia. He wounded five people, including Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, a member of House leadership, and two Capitol Hill police officers whose bravery likely protected many more elected officials from harm.

This did not happen in a vacuum. Coarse partisanship defines our nation. Everything is hyperpoliticized. Many believe the chasm that stymies progress and unity in Washington cannot be bridged. That despair unfortunately leads some people to embrace drastic steps.

Our divisions have been leading us down this road for a while. America was founded on the principle of tolerance and the right to peaceful dissent. But our history is rife with political violence. It includes four presidential assassinations, the killings of the Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and, most recently, the wounding of then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Today’s polarization is as divisive as any in our history. A nasty presidential campaign deepened those tensions. We saw violence at Donald Trump’s rallies, bloody clashes at campaign protests, and confrontations at events when listeners disagreed with the speakers.

Often our words are now uglier and more hateful.

Wednesday’s shooter, James Hodgkinson, contributed to and was infected by this virulent environment. He expressed his anger over Trump’s election on social media and, according to players on the GOP team who were leaving practice early, asked whether those were Democrats or Republicans on the field.

Then he walked straight to the diamond with his weapons, wreaking havoc on a practice for an annual charity game that would feature Democrats and Republicans coming together to raise money for a common cause. The irony was unavoidable.

Thankfully, our political leaders have shown grace. So far. A somber president acknowledged our differences, noting that America is strongest when it is unified, and said that “we do well in times like these to remember everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country.” House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sounded similar themes of unity.

The sentiments were soothing and inspiring, and we hope they are more than words for the day. As a nation, we need to reclaim our common sense, and the heritage that tolerates different ideas and different people. Our political discourse should be a debate, not a war, fought with ideas, not weapons. Our differences of opinion are only that.

Failure will chain us to the grim path on which we’ve been traveling. It’s the anger expressed, the insult hurled, the object tossed, the push and the punch. And now the gun. After the shooting, New York Rep. Claudia Tenney received a reprehensible email that began, “One down, 216 to go,” referring to the number of GOP House members.

Tonight the baseball game will be played as scheduled. But it’s up to them and all of us to make sure that unity doesn’t end there.— The editorial board