A police office carries crime scene tape near the Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The details of the Washington shooting emerged quickly throughout the morning on Wednesday and some key things were learned:
• The shooter detested Republicans and used the opportunity of a baseball practice near Washington for Republican political representatives who were preparing for their annual baseball game against Democrats -- all for the purpose of charity.
• Before opening fire the shooter had allegedly asked if it was a Republican or Democratic baseball practice.
• Bernie Sanders rose in the Senate to acknowledge that the assailant had been a past supporter of his presidential campaign. He denounced the shooting in clear terms, saying the violence has to end.
• Republicans and Democrats in the Congress held hands and prayed in an unusual display of camaraderie as a result of the shootings.
• Democratic and Republican Representatives in both Congress and the Senate began talking about the need to reduce the violence and hatred in the country at large and mused about increased security details for politicians.
• President Donald Trump called the wounded Congressman, Steve Scalise, both a friend and a patriot, and noted the bravery displayed by the security forces as the shooting progressed.
There was much more obviously, but the non-partisan display of compassion and good wishes between both political parties was inspiring. What was left unsaid was that it took this level of violence happening in their own backyard to induce such a unified response. Prior to the shooting yesterday morning the strident bickering, vitriol and, some say, hatred between Democrats and Republicans had reached levels that had consumed the attention of most media outlets and citizens. We all know what's happening in Washington, and regardless of which side one holds to, the disillusionment filtering through American society because of the breakdown of respect and personal dignity in the nation's capital has been epic.
Will the members of the Congress take a sobering look at themselves and the part they have played in the anger of the country at the same time as they bemoan the state of civic decline across the nation? Can they acknowledge that their spiteful and anger-filled words are often the seeds of eventual physical violence?
Republican representative Rodney Davis, who had been at the baseball practice and was clearly shocked by what he witnessed, said, "This could be the first rhetorical terrorist attack and that has to stop." The bloodied member of Congress then got to the root of the matter by passionately proclaiming, "We have to end hatefulness in U.S. politics. This has to stop."
He's right, of course, but for that to happen it must first take place in Congress itself. The hyper-partisan rhetoric and angst-filled commentary spewing from Washington resembles the House of Cards much more than the West Wing. It starts with President Donald Trump. As the highest elected official in the land, it is not enough that he eulogize the heroes -- he must take heroic action himself to rescue American politics from the sinkhole it has entered.
There must be an acknowledgement, and confession, throughout the political establishment in Washington that their constant battling has produced two results -- disillusionment or political war. Either way the public loses and America's reputation in the world dwindles. This "choose your side" politics too frequently results in millions choosing disdain of politics altogether.
During the past American election campaign the Washington Post reminded its readers:
"We are living in a time of unprecedented partisanship. Of the 12 most partisan years in history -- measured as the differential between how partisans view the president -- 10 have come in the last 10 years ... The truly corrosive thing about partisanship is the way in which people on opposite sides of the aisle treat one another."
So, what will it be? Will members of Congress, and especially the president, use this terrible incident to transform their own view of civic responsibility? Or will they continue in that same debilitating practice expressed by James Harvey Robinson: "Partisanship is our great curse. We too readily assume that everything has two sides and that it is our duty to be on one or the other." Keep practicing that and hatred will eventually infuse what was once the glue that held democracy together. It is now up to the politicians themselves to show a different way.
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