Yesterday morning, a gunman opened fire on a group of congressmen who were practicing for a baseball game, wounding six people. As of this writing, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. and lobbyist Mike Mika are in critical condition. Early accounts indicate that the shooter, identified as James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Ill., approached another congressman who was watching and asked whether the players were Republicans or Democrats. (Ironically, the game the congressmen were preparing for is a traditionally friendly rivalry between the two parties.) At times like this, myriad questions arise. Who was the shooter? What was his motive? Why those particular victims? Could it have been predicted? But one question overshadows them all:
What on earth is wrong with people?
Seriously. What makes a person decide to shoot a group of unarmed people because of their political affiliation? We remember when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. was shot in 2011 during a community outreach event with constituents. That appeared to be politically motivated at first, but it later transpired that the shooter was mentally ill and his politics were all over the map. So far, there’s no indication that Hodgkinson suffered from any mental illness. He apparently just hated Republicans enough to kill them.
We wish we could say we were surprised by that. Anyone who’s been following politics for the last decade or so is well aware that the rhetoric on both sides has been growing steadily more strident. It was bad enough when Barack Obama was president and conservatives lambasted his every word and deed. Last year during the presidential campaigns, we saw riots flare up in cities where then-candidate Trump was scheduled to speak. Following his surprise victory in November, more riots broke out all over the country. Just in the last few weeks, a well-known comedian was pictured holding an effigy of the president’s severed head, and a play opened in New York depicting Trump as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. (Spoiler alert: Caesar gets stabbed to death.)
All of these things received well-deserved condemnation, but even so, a few voices pipe up at every turn to justify them on the grounds that Trump or the GOP are a mortal threat to our nation. Just hours after the shooting, a Facebook page sprang up (since removed) proclaiming Hodgkinson a “true American hero.” Hate, murderous hate, is not merely tolerated but actively celebrated.
The mushrooming influence of social media means that every political issue is plastered all over our screens day and night, each article and each meme competing to make its message more outrageous and angry. A couple of weeks ago, a Seattle city councilwoman proudly announced that she has no Republican friends. Last week, Eric Trump, the president’s son, said in an interview that Democrats “aren’t even people” to him, in part because of the angry rhetoric.
Demon-crats, we’re told, are hell-bent on importing terrorists to subjugate us. RethugliKKKans, on the other hand, are supposedly just itching to take away your food and your healthcare. Whichever party you support, you’re constantly being reminded that the folks who back the other side hate you and want you dead. Where does it end?
Yesterday, God help us, we began to find out.
— Editorial Board