It does not take long for agendas to be attached to tragedies. The proliferation of social media, 24/7 television news and talk radio typically generate reaction before reflection. Wednesday’s rifle attack by James T. Hodgkinson that wounded Republican Congressman Steve Scalise and three others during an early morning baseball practice was another opportunity for the blame game.
The shooter had anti-Republican views. He belonged to a group called “Terminate the Republican Party.” He wrote letters and posted comments hostile toward President Donald Trump and Republicans. He also supported Bernie Sanders for President.
Rush Limbaugh began his show Wednesday saying he had just predicted, unfortunately, that a fringe element of the Democratic Party, frustrated that the investigation into President Trump will not land him in jail, would react with violence.
“I have foreseen this coming,” Limbaugh said. “You can’t continue to enrage people the way the left, and predominately the way the media has been doing. I think the left has been driven to this extreme for quite a while.”
But we have also seen this from the other side. Some on the left tried to blame Sarah Palin for Jared Loughner’s shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Arizona) because Palin released a map of 20 House Democrats and used images of crosshairs to show their districts.
Keith Obermann, who worked for MSNBC at the time, called for Palin to be “dismissed from politics” for “amplifying violence.” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) said the Palin “apparatus” helped create a climate of extremism that contributed to the attack on Giffords.
Under that logic, should Bernie Sanders bear some blame for Wednesday’s attack? Of course not, and Sanders took to the Senate floor to denounce Hodgkinson and violence just as Palin offered her prayers for Giffords and for peace and justice.
House Speaker Paul Ryan set the proper tone Wednesday during a brief address to the members. “Let’s just slow down and reflect and think about how we are all being tested right now,” he said. “I ask each of you to join me to resolve to come together, to lift each other up and to show the country, to show the world that we are one House, the people’s House, united in our humanity. It is that humanity which will win the day.”
Ryan is correct. It is our ability to feel empathy, express kindness and benevolence toward our fellow man that makes us human. What purpose does it serve to engage in the blame game immediately after a tragedy?
James T. Hodgkinson was responsible for his violent and destructive actions, not the media, Democrats or Bernie Sanders. It would be helpful to remember that the next time a right-wing psychotic goes off the deep end.
These perverse and violent acts should not be treated as opportunities to make political points, but instead they are clarion calls for us to be guided by, as President Abraham Lincoln said, “The better angels of our nature.”