The shooting at a ballfield in Virginia of congressmen and aides is tragic and how we respond to it will affect our country in important ways. It might take a while to understand the causes, the meaning and the results of this violence because so many aspects of our culture are involved.
Will the extraordinary polarization of Washington continue to calcify and will the malignant divisions continue to spread into the broader society? Many academics trace the hardened and personal partisan divide that has so characterized Congress in the last two decades to something as mundane but as consequential as Gerrymandering. Congressional districts have been redrawn to virtually assure that the only fear most representatives ever have is a challenge in their primary from someone in their own party. The result is that congressmen consistently appeal to their base and comply with the policy interests of money lobbies. It is as though the job of representative is one of making calls to donors and issuing inflammatory rhetoric to satisfy their base. The House of Representatives have lived within its self-created bubble until the angry rhetoric and gun violence that many of us suffer has busted that bubble. Children being slaughtered in Connecticut or Georgia resulted in absurdly partisan responses with conservative GOP representatives calling for arming schools rather than common sense laws to limit assault weapons. I haven’t heard many congressmen opining that maybe the congressmen and their aides should start carrying assault weapons to softball practice. Maybe it is too early yet, but maybe congressmen facing the same carnage of assault weapons we face will result in some good legislation.
Another aspect of the broader culture that has contributed to the bitter and now violent political divide is hate radio. The Rush Limbaughs, Alex Jones, etc. have deliberately encouraged a personal characterization of politics that attacks their targets not so much for their policy positions as the result of evil motives. Liberals want to “destroy” freedom, individual politicians are “traitors” who should be executed. For example, Mr. Jones consistently talks about the upcoming “Civil War II” and encouraging his listeners to arm themselves and be prepared to shoot neighbors and even family. He allegedly has over 6 million listeners. Donald Trump exploits the anger and fear when he calls the media “enemies”, and depersonalizes and denigrates Democrats. Leadership makes a difference. History is replete with the lessons that people are vulnerable to fear and too easily encouraged to violence. How do we lance the poison of hate radio without impinging on freedom of speech? It has to come from leadership… from political leaders responding to issues with courage and inspiration. Playing the softball game as exercise in solidarity and support for each other as human being as well as members of the opposite parties is an example of something that can make a difference to society in general. Hate radio already has promoted the shooting as a reason for partisan rage and fear, but it seems that the game itself may have created goodwill.
Let’s hope that the political courage to treat fellow Americans as equally patriotic and worthy of respect, at least the respect to listen to their ideas and consider them in relation to solving a problem instead of an exclusive focus on re-election by appealing to the base – a term that is an appropriate adjective as it is a noun.