I’d love to be hopeful, I really would. But forgive me for doubting that the calls for unity after the horrific shooting of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and others at a suburban baseball field last week will amount to even a speed bump in our descent to political disintegration.
The comity immediately following Wednesday’s attack was heartening. Polarizing figures from Donald Trump to Nancy Pelosi sounded sincere in saying that the shooting highlighted the need for more civil public discourse. House Speaker Paul Ryan vowed “to come together … to lift each other up … and to show the country – show the world – that we are one House.” Sen. Bernie Sanders, on whose campaign the shooter worked, said he was “sickened” and condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms.”
The sentiment didn’t last 24 hours.
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“Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, ‘bleached’ emails, & had husband meet w/ AG days before she was cleared - & they talk about obstruction?” Trump tweeted Thursday, one day after the shooting. Michael Caputo, a Trump campaign adviser, blamed the shooting on Democrats and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “There’s no other reason for what happened,” he said. Pelosi called Republicans “sanctimonious” and pinned today’s polarization on Republicans who “decided on the politics of personal destruction” in the 1990s.
It’s true that some of the most strident voices – including U.S. Rep. Chris Collins and rocker Ted Nugent – said they now realize it’s time to tone down the rhetoric. But consider this: On Thursday afternoon, just one day after the shooting, there was not a single word about the congressional shooting on my Google News homepage. The world had moved on to the Bill Cosby trial, fights over health care reform and Trump lashing out over a probe into possible obstruction of justice. News cycles, and memories, are short these days.
It’s facile to blame Wednesday’s tragedy solely on politically driven hate. Instead of Republicans, a shooter could as easily hate gays or his bosses or his classmates. Mental illness and the easy availability of guns plague America. This shooting got attention because it involved members of Congress, but there have been 156 mass shootings in the United States in the first 166 days of this year, the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive reports.
Still, there’s no denying today’s political chasm. Too many treat it as sport, a game. But it is now threatening the country’s greatness and its future.
It’s caused in part by the ideological cocoons we nestle in these days. We live in homogenous neighborhoods and have like-minded friends. The New York Times reports that in 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said they would be unhappy if their child married someone from the other party. In 2010, those figures had leapt to half of Republicans and a third of Democrats.
Many of my closest friends are political conservatives. I’m on a message group with 14 college friends who reside across the whole political spectrum. We have pointed policy discussions and remain close.
There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing about public policy. It’s essential, in fact, that we do. The Observer editorial board tries to advocate on issues without getting personal. The nation’s strength is skidding toward a permanent lessening through people’s inability to disagree respectfully.
In the end, it’s up to you and me, the voters, not to tolerate such behavior. Withhold your votes from anyone who engages in it; change the channel on any TV network and X out of any website that does so.
Only we the people can stop this. And it’s almost too late.