On a bright, sunny morning this week, as Republican Congressmen were practicing for a charity baseball game, a lone gunman appeared and began to shoot. Fortunately, Capitol Police were there, and the gunman was shot quickly, but not before inflicting life-threatening injuries to one Congressman and wounding others. Media accounts have told us that the shooter was a disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporter.
My hope, and I pray it is so, is that this shooting will have a lasting impact on the way our politicians conduct themselves. Speeches were made by members of Congress, acknowledging that the relationship between the Democrats and Republicans has deteriorated in the past few years. Some remembered the days when after a particularly heated argument over an issue, members of both parties would meet socially and leave their animosity behind. Apparently this rarely happens anymore.
Our political world has become increasingly divisive, both in the halls of Congress, and during campaigning. Our government has set aside the art of compromise for the total power of the majority party. Unfortunately, our citizens have also become increasingly partisan. The news media, which throughout history, adhered to journalistic rules, has become a stew of slanted stories and innuendo. The media which does strive to provide us with unbiased truth is often difficult to distinguish from this toxic stew. The internet and social media have contributed mightily to this partisanship, with half-truths and outright lies about politicians rampant — it is difficult for all but the most discerning reader to know whether something they hear or read is truth or slander. Our recent Presidential campaign was filled with grade-school level name-calling and bullying which was disgusting.
Our great country has long been comprised by people of markedly different beliefs, lifestyles, occupations, needs, and regional backgrounds. The college professor often has a very different world view from the corporate CEO. The low-income city dweller has entirely different problems from the struggling farmer in the heartland. This is one reason why the House of Representatives is so important to our democracy. Their districts are small enough, so if they diligently perform their duties, they interact with their constituents on a more personal basis and understand their needs and beliefs. However, this is no longer meaningful if the majority party in Congress will not include the minority party in its lawmaking process. The constituents of the minority party lose their voice entirely.
To me, the shooting this week illustrated the great anger and frustration felt by citizens in our country. Obviously, this was a tragic and horrific illustration, but it should be a wake-up call to our leaders. Hatred and divisiveness feed the worst in all of us. We must try to “ramp down” the tone that has infiltrated our society. Of course, we can all strive to refrain from passing on the hateful rhetoric we hear and read. That is one step. However, I firmly believe that at this point, the “ramping down” must begin from the top. Hopefully, Congress will begin once again to put country before party, to be inclusive rather than exclusive, and to work to solve the problems of the entire country, not just those of the majority party constituents or the largest campaign contributors.