A shooting in Alexandria, a society eager to hate

The gunman, a liberal Democrat, hated Donald Trump and wanted to shoot Republicans. He shot House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others. Is this the new politics as usual?


WASHINGTON, June 14, 2017 ⏤ The gunman was a staunch Democrat, a Bernie Bro who wrote of Republicans, “Maybe if they weren’t so full of hate, they could see what they are doing to this country—selling it to the Chinese just so they can keep more of the millions.”

His social media pages bristled with hatred for President Trump. He opened fire on congressional Republicans at a baseball practice on June 14, Trump’s 71st birthday. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., is in critical condition. Also injured were two Capitol Police officers, a lobbyist and a congressional staffer. All are expected to recover.

The gunman, James Hodgkinson, is dead.

Depending on who you are, the shooting demonstrated (again) the importance of gun control. It was karma, just desserts for a pro-NRA Republican. It came from a dangerous, left-wing culture of hate whose most recent faces are Kathy Gifford and the New York Public Theater, now celebrating the ritual execution of Trump as Julius Caesar.

According to a recent New York Times headline, “You’re Not Going to Change Your Mind.” The problem isn’t that you cling to your political beliefs. It’s that you want to cling to them. We prefer evidence that makes the case we prefer.

Psychologists, behavioral economists and others have been making that case in the popular press for years now. In that vein, James Comey’s testimony last week seemed to reinforce the pre-existing beliefs and conclusions of just about everyone who listened to him, about Trump, Hillary Clinton, Loretta Lynch and the Obama administration.

Likewise, the shooting in Arlington is evidence of whatever we want it to be. No one’s beliefs will be changed by it. So, rather than argue about gun rights, gun ownership, and whether this is all about guns⏤we’ve already decided that⏤we might consider instead the role of violent rhetoric.

When Gabby Giffords were shot, Sarah Palin was excoriated for ads with bulls-eyes on them. “Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ blood is on Sarah Palin’s hands after putting cross hair over district.”

Those ads weren’t just a call to target those representatives for defeat, as Palin claimed, but a subliminal call to violence. And oh, yes, we need gun control.

There’s been a bit of violent rhetoric aimed at Republicans this year. The left was so incensed by Donald Trump that they were moved to violence at several of his campaign rallies, as well as on Inauguration Day. In NY, a production of Julius Caesar has Caesar in orangey-yellow hair and a bright red tie, with a wife who looks like a model and speaks in a Slovenian accent. If memory serves, the Caesar character ends up with a knife in his back (and his side and his front). A subliminal call to violence?

Conservatives of a particular sort have been talking about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants years. Kathy Gifford’s bloody Trump head is shocking only because it shocked people. One might have thought by now that we were inured to shock.

The existence of so many guns in our country, often in the hands of unstable people, is disturbing even to some conservatives. But what is more disturbing than the guns is the bloody-mindedness of so many Americans.

The evidence is against those who own guns for fear of violent crime and against those who believe that the free availability of guns has fueled a bloodbath in our streets, schools and movie theaters. The trend in violent crime and gun deaths has been downward for decades, and Americans are safer than they’ve been since the 80s.

But we’re bloody-minded and fearful. We’re afraid of violence, and people are afraid of us, let’s buy another gun in the morning just in case. The data say we’re relatively safe, but we don’t think in terms of statistics. We think in terms of pictures, and the pictures plastered on our Facebook walls and news feeds are sometimes terrifyingly, spectacularly bloody.

But if the stats say we’re safer, our rhetoric is violent. Violent rhetoric makes violence more acceptable. Left-wing friends have claimed for years that liberals don’t engage in violent rhetoric. Yes, yes they do. The ugly storm of twitter glee over the congressional baseball shootings suggests that a lot of liberals really do approve of violence, if it’s against the right people.

Most Americans don’t own an arsenal and don’t want to. We do own our own words and positions. If we advocate violence or celebrate it when it strikes our political enemies, we might as well be dripping poison into the public well that encourages someone, somewhere to kill.

The gun control argument will go on. We’ll all take positions on that. But for now our only position should be that of Bernie Sanders, who said in a written statement, “I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”

The shootings were awful. The shooter’s political leanings are an easy attack line for conservatives, but they aren’t an issue. His willingness to kill was an issue.

Let us hope the victims recover speedily and fully, and let us do what we can to ensure that we live in a climate where, no matter how many guns people own, we all reject the exercise of violence against political enemies, school kids, theater goers, spouses and neighbors. That anyone would take joy in this is the real issue here and now, not the guns. We are becoming a bloody-minded, hate-filled society. Regardless of how we feel about guns and Scalise, that’s something we can do something about.

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