The assassination attempt against Republican Members of Congress as they practiced for the annual Congressional baseball game shocked many people in its brazenness. It’s the first time Congressmen in the DC area have been attacked in nearly 20 years, and its potential for bloodshed was probably only rivaled by the 1954 attack against the Capitol Building by Puerto Rican nationalists. Some of the victims remain in the hospital and will hopefully make a full recovery, but the damage could have been far worse. This attack should be a wake-up call to Americans that political conflict has become dangerously overheated.
Government Of, By, and For the People
In an era of big government and imperial Presidents, Members of Congress remain the members of government closest to, most responsive to, and most accessible to the people. Only senior Congressional leaders have security details, and not large ones at that. Congressional office buildings remain open to the general public, to constituents wanting to petition for various legislative measures or even just to those who want to pop in and say hello. Let’s hope that that openness and closeness isn’t a casualty of this incident.
Political violence of this type is something you would expect in a banana republic, not in a developed nation. Elections exist precisely to prevent this type of violence. When you vote, you recognize that whoever receives the most votes wins. To kill your political opponents because you disagree with them or because you’re upset about the result of the election overturns the entire purpose of the electoral process. Getting bent out of shape that your party didn’t win an election and can’t advance its agenda is no excuse for violence.
Hopefully this incident isn’t a Pandora’s Box that has been opened. Once political violence has been accepted as a tactic, it will only lead to a downward spiral of more and more violence. Social media yesterday was unfortunately full of people who praised the shooter or engaged in schadenfreude, declaring that the Republicans got what they deserved. That type of attitude will only strengthen the perception that the left advocates political violence as a matter of course, ensuring that communication between left and right will become more strained, and running the risk that right-leaning fringe elements will respond with what they see as justified, retaliatory violence. The last thing anyone wants to see is open, armed political conflict in American streets. The consequences would be disastrous.
Let Reason and Logic Prevail
One of the factors playing into the shooting was a national discourse that has jettisoned rational thinking and substituted it with emotional reaction, often vitriolic. Rather than engaging their opponents in logical and reasoned debate about the desirability or consequences of certain policy actions, too many people are quick to resort to insults. In the era of sound bites and Twitter, a quick and witty zinger or an emotional tirade is hailed as brilliant argument.
Because emotion trumps logic, political debate features arguments that paint opponents in the least favorable light possible. Do you oppose nationalized health care? Then you’re a heartless grinch who is actively trying to kill poor people and those suffering from disease. Do you want to make abortion illegal? Then you want to take the country back to the Middle Ages, oppress women, and see them getting butchered in back-alley abortions. Do you oppose a $15 minimum wage? Then you want to enrich the wealthy, steal from the working class, and starve poor children.
Unpack those assertions and analyze them and you can see the inconsistencies and leaps of logic that are being made. But when someone argues emotionally and refuses to listen to reason, advancing a sound and rational argument will fall on deaf ears. And when the person using emotion rather than reason has problems with anger management, you see a resort to violence that has become far too common. In a society that has largely jettisoned notions of acceptable behavior in favor of “If it feels good, do it”, no means is too extreme now to express disagreement or to bring about desired ends, even violence.
Good Guys With Guns > Bad Guys With Guns
The most important takeaway, and the reason that we aren’t mourning dozens of dead Congressmen today, it the fact that good guys with guns were there to stop the shooter. Two Capitol Police officers who were severely outgunned managed to take out the shooter, even while sustaining wounds in the gunfight. It’s unfortunate that politicians such as Governor McAuliffe immediately sought to use the incident to advance a gun control agenda. Those who found themselves facing the shooter's bullets certainly wished that they had had guns, and some of them are vowing to arm themselves from now on. Let’s hope that reason and restraint triumph over passion and unrest, so that they won’t need to use those guns in the future.