In May, Rep. Tom Garrett held a town hall meeting in Moneta. The event was held in a church, but it felt more like a fortress — with upwards of 40 uniformed police officers present.
Did we really need such a heavy police presence for a congressman to meet with his constituents? We found out later the reason for this show of force: Garrett — a Republican from Buckingham County — had received some death threats in the form of anonymous emails. One threatened to kill his wife. Another described, in especially vile terms, how the sender intended to bash in Garrett’s head, then take a chainsaw to his body.
Still, it’s easy — all too easy — to send some anonymous email. The email may contain a threat, but is it really a threat?
Unfortunately, we got the answers to those questions this week on a baseball field in Alexandria.
The United States has seen assassinations and attempted assassinations before but, thankfully, they have been rare. Maybe we will never have another incident like the one that happened this week. Let’s hope not.
What can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen? Well, don’t pick up a gun and try to shoot somebody over their political beliefs. Or a knife, either. Those may seem flip answers, but there’s really not much difference between a disgruntled liberal opening fire on Republican members of Congress in the Washington suburbs, and ultra-conservative jihadists slashing random people in a London pub. In both cases, the attackers have lost all sense of tolerance for those who hold differing views.
It’s also easy — again, all too easy — to look at those two very different, but two very similar, horrors and say “that’s not me.” On one level, that’s true. On another, well, this would be a good time for everyone to look in the mirror. The blood was still wet on the field when politicians and political operatives started trying to lay blame for the shooting, with each side blaming the other for coarsening the nation’s political discourse to the point that people are now getting shot. Garrett himself tweeted: “Leftist hyperbolic vitriol. No one should be surprised. The left provokes this behavior. Pray for the wounded.”
Is that really . . . helpful?
Contrast that with the statement from Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem: “We must remember that we are all Americans, even when we disagree. In my experience, Members of Congress, whether Republican or Democrat, are trying to do what they believe is best for the country.”
Griffith struck the better chord here. This is a time for everyone to turn down the volume, not turn it up.
The reality is that both sides bear responsibility for the ugly tone of American politics. Just two days before the shooting, President Trump’s own son said of his father’s critics: “I’ve never seen hatred like this. To me, they’re not even people.”
Not even people? Really? That’s the sort of dehumanization that leads to very dark places. The Nazis called Jews “rats” who needed to be exterminated. The Hutus in called Tutsis “cockroaches” before they unleashed genocide in Rwanda.
Liberals are just as guilty, only in a different ways. Conservatives who blame the Democratic frenzy over Trump for provoking the attempted murder of Republican politicians are not entirely wrong. We’ve pointed this out before; we’ll do so again. Democrats like to speak of how they form the “resistance” to Trump. This is not a harmless word.
The real resistance was the French Resistance to the Nazis, which did not confine itself to writing letters to the editor. Democrats mean the phrase metaphorically but if you take that word “resistance” literally, it ultimately leads to . . . a baseball field in Alexandria. Democrats would be wise to drop that term. “Opposition” would suffice. Likewise, both sides should avoid the phrase “un-American” when they’re describing the other. Some things certainly are un-American. The term, though, is used far too casually. There has been passionate opposition to the government of the day since the founding of the republic. Even George Washington had his critics. We have a more colorful history than our grade school history books teach us.
In short, everybody should tone down their rhetoric. (They’d also do well to turn off the cable news networks entirely.) That doesn’t mean they should change their views. If you think Trump is a terrible president, by means, go ahead and say he’s a terrible president. If you think liberalism is a bad philosophy on which to run the government, feel free to say that, too.
But, please, let’s not casually ascribe evil motives to the other side. We think Griffith was so correct in both his tone and his substance that his words bear repeating: “In my experience, Members of Congress, whether Republican or Democrat, are trying to do what they believe is best for the country.”
Just a few days before the shooting, we were talking with Griffith about several issues before Congress. Griffith has little in common politically with our two Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, yet they have been working closely on some bills relating to natural gas pipelines. On another issue, Griffith suggested we confer with Bobby Scott, the Democratic congressman from Newport News — and talked about how they got along quite well despite their sharp political differences.
In the aftermath of the Alexandria shooting that left House Majority Whip Steven Scalise critically wounded, we learned that one of his best friends in Congress is a Democrat — Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. The Washington Post even called Richmond “a fiery Democrat.” That fieriness, though, hasn’t gotten in the way of their camaraderie: “Old friends from the Louisiana legislature, these two political polar opposites sometimes appear at local business events together around New Orleans, often turning to the annual Congressional Baseball Game in their friendly but competitive banter.”
Richmond was one of the first to go to the hospital where Scalise was taken, and vowed to sit vigil with him overnight.
It’s fashionable to say that the problem with this country is Washington, which is another way of saying the problem is with the politicians. Perhaps so. But maybe the problem here isn’t the politicians. Maybe it’s us. Here’s one instance where we the people should be more like some of our statesmanlike politicians.