You knew it was coming.
You felt it with a sickening certainty the instant news of a mass shooting flashed out from Alexandria, Virginia. So it was disheartening, but hardly surprising, to hear certain conservatives reflexively blame Democrats and their so-called “hate speech” for the carnage.
It happened Wednesday morning. The quiet camaraderie of Republican lawmakers practicing for a charity baseball game against their Democratic colleagues was shattered by rifle shots from one James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois. Police officers providing security returned fire.
When the shooting was done, five people were wounded, including two officers and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), whose injuries were critical. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old left-winger and former supporter of Bernie Sanders who was apparently motivated by hatred for Donald Trump and the GOP, was mortally wounded.
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There was still blood on the ground when conservatives began laying the shooting at liberals’ feet. Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) blamed “outrageous” Democratic rhetoric. (He later expressed regret for that comment.) The Infowars website cited a “hysterical anti-Trump narrative.” Radio host Michael Savage spoke of a “constant drumbeat of hatred.”
It was predictable because it’s what we always do. Jerry Falwell blamed the ACLU for 9/11. Jane Fonda blamed Sarah Palin for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
At some point, you’d think we’d learn that rhetoric – excluding that which explicitly or implicitly calls for violence – does not “cause” people to shoot, stab, or bomb. By that logic, you’d have to blame Fox “News” and other organs of the right for the Planned Parenthood shooting and the Atlanta Olympics bombing.
It makes about as much sense. You know who’s to blame for this shooting? James Hodgkinson is.
Frankly, this sudden concern for the tenor of political discourse feels precious, even sanctimonious, given conservatives’ history of invective and lies. Where was all this fretting last year when Donald Trump said “Second Amendment people” might stop Hillary Clinton? Where was it week before last, when Eric Trump said Democrats are “not even people” to him?
The bottom line is that a president of unprecedented incompetence is being enabled by a Congress of criminal complicity in an agenda of frightful destructiveness. To see that and not say it loudly and emphatically would be an act of journalistic, political or civic malpractice. It would be un-American.
Not that liberals have any reason to feel smug about this. Taken in conjunction with a recent string of attacks on police officers, Wednesday’s shooting suggests something as startling as it is troubling. Namely, that left-wing terrorism might be making a comeback.
It has been 40 years since the likes of the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Weathermen disappeared from view, and in those years domestic terrorism has been exclusively a phenomenon of the political right. That may be changing now. It’s a deeply disturbing idea, suggesting as it does a nation ever faster pulling itself apart, a people riven by irreconcilable differences, a country that isn’t even sure it wants to be a country anymore.
These tired games of political one-upmanship are too small for such a moment. This moment is for soul-searching, for considering who and what and even if we are, as Americans. It is for wondering what it means when baseball is not safe and being a Republican gets you shot. Nothing less than our national identity and ideals are at stake here.
A maniac shot up a ballfield Wednesday morning. Five people were hit.
Three hundred and twenty-five million were wounded.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.