This we know: An angry Democrat wielding a rifle and a handgun opened fire Wednesday on House Republicans gathered at a baseball field in Virginia for a practice for the upcoming Congressional Baseball Game, a popular bipartisan fundraising event for charity that will go on, regardless.
The motive for the shooting is not totally clear, but the gunman, James T. Hodgkinson, 66, a supporter of anti-Republican causes — and Sen. Bernie Sanders — asked a departing congressman a revealing question in the parking lot:
“Is this the Republican or the Democratic team practicing?” He got his answer, police say, and opened fire on vulnerable GOP congressional members and their staff, armed with nothing more than baseball bats and mitts. Four people were wounded and the shooter was slowed down and then killed by Capitol Police, the real heroes in this tale.
Could pure and raw political hate be the motive for this brutal attack on lawmakers?
This incident brings up two questions:
Is this now how we settle our political differences? Does one side hate the other so much that it wants to shoot it down and kill it — even faraway from an official battlefield?
We also know this: Gun violence is a continuing national outrage. The rhetoric of intolerance, to say nothing of the behavior, in the country is off the charts, not to mention a clear threat to civility. This confluence seems to have sparked Wednesday’s shooting. But, given past inaction, any talk of gun control likely will be off the table. If 20 dead schoolchildren couldn’t prod Congress to act, will a shooting, which hit even closer to home, do the trick? Not likely.
The most seriously wounded was House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana; also hit were a congressional aide and two courageous law-enforcement officers who returned the gunman’s fire.
They were all there for practice for the Congressional Baseball Game, a tradition dating back to 1909 that brings together Democrats and Republicans on the ball field. Once news spread of the shooting, their Democratic opponents, practicing on a nearby field, huddled in prayer for fellow congressmen.
There are shootings every day in this country, and none of them should be dismissed, shrugged off. Still, the ambush of people who were sitting ducks in an open baseball field is chilling. Hodgkinson was clearly a Trump hater, as his social media accounts reveal: “Time to destroy Trump & company,” he wrote in a post. A friend told reporters that he was just “tired of the political goings-on.”
Hodgkinson appeared to be socially engaged — in a good way: He allegedly volunteered to work to elect Sanders; he frequently wrote letters to the editor to his hometown newspaper. Then he picked up a gun.
Are we surprised? Yes. Shocked? No. Deeply concerned? Absolutely.
We know too well that President Trump is a divisive chief executive. But blanket hatred and violence, of course, did not originate with him. Indeed, they are, sadly an enduring part of life on Earth. In this country, however, Trump’s rhetoric has brought such hostility to the fore: vicious hate crimes in public places; a president’s severed head, fake, but an ugly act; an ambushed baseball game. Trump addressed the heroism, but not the pervasive hate. He ought do so — solemnly, thoughtfully like a true leader.