It's time to stop the polarization
For weeks, members of Congress have been dragging themselves out of bed around dawn for baseball practice. The annual Congressional Baseball Game, scheduled for Thursday at Nationals Park, is a chance for Democrats and Republicans to engage in friendly, charitable rivalry.
On the baseball field, intense disagreements about health care and tax policy shift into less-intense disagreements about balks and close tags.
That's why they were on a suburban ballfield in Alexandria, Va., on Wednesday, along with some of their staff members and children. On the weekends, Eugene Simpson Stadium Park with minor-league seating and an electronic scoreboard often hosts Little League games. On this day, the dugout featured a more potbellied lineup.
It was early. Practice was wrapping up. U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville was at bat. The GOP lawmakers were away from the protections of the Capitol. Away from metal detectors. Away from barricades. Away from security checkpoints that shield Capitol Hill like a fortress.
They were out in the open.
A gunman identified as James Hodgkinson, 66, of downstate Belleville opened fire. Five people were wounded, including U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, congressional aide Zachary Barth, Capitol Police Officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey, and lobbyist Matt Mika, originally from Michigan, who liked to practice with the team.
Witnesses said Hodgkinson engaged in a firefight with police for several more minutes. He died later at a Washington, D.C.-area hospital.
Hodgkinson was a supporter of presidential contender Bernie Sanders. His brother told news outlets he was disturbed over President Donald Trump's election, and his social media posts reflected that.
He also had criticized Gov. Bruce Rauner.
After the shooting, Hodgkinson's social media pages exploded. Overheated rhetoric. Divisive name-calling. Obscenity. One Facebook user created a new page called "James T. Hodgkinson is a true American hero." (All have now been deleted.)
Who would do that?
The answer is, outliers. Not us. Not most Americans. Not the majority.
One of the players at Wednesday's practice, Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, told police he believed he encountered Hodgkinson in the parking lot as he was leaving practice. Hodgkinson asked him if the players on the field were Democrats or Republicans.
"Republicans," Duncan told him.
So there's little mystery about the gunman's political leanings. But there is confusion about the leap. How could he flip from political activist to shooter, to someone who would engage in "political rhetorical terrorist acts," as Rep. Davis described them?
As the days unfold, we'll learn more about Hodgkinson and the events leading up to the shooting.
But for now, in this moment, we know one thing for sure. Violence that stems from political discourse is reprehensible. It does not represent us as Americans. The vast majority of citizens, even the most passionate partisans, vehemently reject acts of violence as a means of political expression.
We echo the comments of Davis who, in television interviews Wednesday, said: "This hatefulness that we see in this country today over policy differences has got to stop.
"We as Americans have to take a step back, take a deep breath," he said. "We can't let our policy differences tear this country apart with polarization. It's up to us to say, 'enough is enough.'"
Let this be that moment.
Chicago Tribune, June 14, 2017