The horrific shooting that put House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise in intensive care and others, including two police officers, in the hospital Wednesday in Alexandria outside of Washington, DC, was — many felt — something that was bound to happen.
It had to come, they said, because of the violent language used too often in legislative debates and because hateful politics feeds the growing hate that occupies the hearts and minds of a divisive America.
For Amy and I, the events hit close to home in part because we lived in Northern Virginia during our 23 years in the National Capital Region, because I had practised with members of Congress for that baseball game during my time working on Capitol Hill and because Amy remembered the shooter during their school days in his and her hometown of Belleville, Illinois. They weren’t friends but she knew who he was.
We did have friends on that ballfield in Alexandria when the shooter opened fire.
While most members of Congress and the White House talked of a need for both sides to curtail the heated rhetoric that keeps tensions high, Republican Chris Collins of New York quickly attacked the Democrats and blamed them for the shooting.
“I can only hope that the Democrats do tone down the rhetoric,” he said. “The rhetoric has been outrageous…the finger pointing, just the tone and the angst and the danger directed at Donald Trump, is supporters.”
Someone in leadership apparently pulled Collins aside and told him to tone down his rhetoric because he later admitted that both sides have been guilty of fanning the flames.
But his quick move to score political points with the GOP base highlights how ingrained the hate and bias is within the American political system. Collins was so eager to blame the “other side” but what he really did was showcase the hypocrisy that exists in both sides of the political circus in Washington. Even our flame-throwing President issued a call for unity and said we need to tone things down.
We see so much anger in discussions that erupt into shouting matches in restaurants and on the streets. We see it in comments posted in social meeting. We see it in bumper stickers and t-shirts.
America is a divided, angry nation and the shootings that put a Congressman in intensive care and the shooter dead may not be the last act of horror. The Washington Post said the shooting Wednesday was the 154th multiple shooting in America in the first 165 days of 2017. The 155th came later in the day. In San Francisco, a gunman opened fire in a United Parcel Service facility, killing three before taking his own life.
Is this what we have become?