… let’s kill all the Republicans. Dick the Butcher didn’t exactly say that in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, but it’s pretty close. He actually said, “…let’s kill all the lawyers,” but the transference to today’s political climate is obvious. Dick was a follower of Jack Cade, who believed that if he could disturb law and order he could become king. As Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
These lines from a 400-year-old play are more than academically interesting today. Last Wednesday an event of unspeakable violence occurred at a ballfield in the sleepy Virginia town of Alexandria, Virginia – a stone’s throw from the U. S. Capitol and just 20 miles from our home. As Republican members of Congress and staffers practiced for the annual Democrat-Republican baseball game, around 7 AM that morning, a gunman identified as James T. Hodgkinson opened fire on them with a semi-automatic rifle. His fusillade of some 50 to100 shots (according to Rep. Mo Brooks, who was a witness) seriously wounded Congressman Steve Scalise and struck three others. Hodgkinson had evidently asked a spectator if the players were Democrats or Republicans. He began shooting when he was told that they were Republicans.
By the mercy of a kind Providence, three armed Special Agents of the Capitol Police were present at the practice because Rep. Scalise (R-LA) – the Majority Whip and third-ranking Republican in the House – has a protective detail when he’s away from the Capitol. Upon hearing the shots, the officers immediately engaged the assassin, returned fire, and wounded him badly enough to stop him. During the exchange one officer was also wounded – fortunately not seriously. Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown observed: “Quite frankly, it was not only chaotic. It was a combat situation.” In the melee, a lobbyist and a Congressional staffer were also wounded. Hodgkinson subsequently died of his wounds at a nearby hospital.
Rep. Scalise, standing near second base when Hodgkinson opened fire, was struck in the hip. The bullet shattered bones, damaged internal organs, and caused serious bleeding. Despite his wound, he managed to crawl into the outfield to escape further injury. Colleagues ran out to assist him once the shooting stopped. He was in critical condition for several days after the incident, but is now listed as “stable.” Also wounded by the gunfire were Matt Mika, a former congressional staff member who now works for Tyson Foods, and Zachary Barth, a staff aide to Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas). Mr. Mika – hit several times, including at least once in the chest – is still in critical condition. Mr. Barth was listed in good condition.
The Capitol Police officers involved were Crystal Griner, Henry Cabrera, and David Bailey. Agent Griner was shot in the ankle; Agent Bailey was not hit, but suffered a leg-injury that put him on crutches; Officer Cabrera was not injured. The officers have been much praised for their valiant and timely action. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) – also present at the scene – said their prompt response undoubtedly saved many lives. What might have happened, had they not been present, is too horrible to contemplate.
The assassin, James Hodgkinson, aged 66, was later identified as an Illinois resident who had been a campaign-volunteer for Bernie Sanders. Acquaintances described him as an angry man who had railed about Mr. Trump and Republicans “betraying the country.” He had evidently been living in his van in the Alexandria area since March. Authorities have not determined whether Hodgkinson came to Virginia specifically to plan the attack that he eventually made.
In the wake of this wretched event, distinct responses have emerged from various sides of the political scene. First off, it’s fair to say that both sides of the political aisle were greatly shocked by the event. I believe most (hopefully all) members of Congress – Democrats as well as Republicans – are genuinely grieved over the injuries suffered by Majority Whip Scalise, Mr. Mika, Mr. Barth, and Agent Griner. The words and tone of political figures I have seen and heard indicate that they are aghast that things have reached this point.
Republicans have expressed concern over how far we have strayed from reasonable political discourse. They have issued calls for less personal rancor, renewed comity, and recognition of our joint interest in the good of the people and the country. Both House Speaker Ryan and President Trump made statements along those lines soon after the shooting. Mr. Ryan called for unity, honored the victims and the quick response of the police, and said this was “an attack on all of us.” President Trump also praised the heroic actions of the police and said, “We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good.”
Democrats have said somewhat less about unity, but were also obviously stunned by the incident – possibly because literal violence has actually invaded the protected space they live in. When you reach the Congress, you don’t expect to be gunned down in a public park. Such events are rare, but they have occurred in the past.  Do members of the “Loyal Opposition” realize that they might be next in the crosshairs of some nut-case? Who knows? But I do sense that many Democrats understand that the political environment is totally out of control. A few Dems – notably Virginia’s ambitious governor, Terry McAuliffe – ran to the microphones to call for stricter gun-control, but responses in that vein have been muted. There was a disgraceful attempt to argue that Mr. Scalise “had it coming” due to his alleged connections to the Klan and stance on gun-control, but that line gained no traction. Perhaps Hodgkinson’s identification as a Sanders-supporter left some Democrats uncharacteristically embarrassed. To his credit, Mr. Sanders did emphatically denounce all violence.
The Fourth Estate – a.k.a. the Media – was all over the shooting at first, since Conflict is the name of their game. There was rampant speculation over the assassin’s motives. Some pundits and reporters said Republicans’ extreme rhetoric and legislation drove him to violence. There were calls for the president to “dial it back,” but I heard nothing about the Resistance’s responsibility for Mr. Trump’s sharp responses. As I noted in an earlier article, the liberal media expect a president to keep mum when they throw stuff at him. Some media figures – not all, but far too many – believe violence like this is caused by Republicans, whom they regard as the party of misogyny, racism, and hate. They argue that Democrat-partisans are driven to violent acts by Republicans’ words and actions. In the media’s calculus, Mr. Trump’s illegitimate occupation of the presidency is the poisonous font of all that is wrong in the country. Thus, every event, no matter how vile, must be used as a club to bash him. Barely a week on, however, Big Media’s coverage of the shooting has all but disappeared. The event clearly offended the public too much for it to be useful as a weapon to hurt Mr. Trump.
Some pundits and politicians have expressed a hope that this wretched incident might be a turning point in our political discourse. I want to share that hope, but color me “uncertain” at this point. Once I see political figures actually reaching across the aisle with reasoned arguments and a willingness to work together – instead of throwing rotten vegetables – then I’ll begin to hope that our political nightmare is ending. Let’s all pray that it may be so.
 Violence against members of Congress:
- In January 2011 Representative Giffords (D-AZ) was shot and seriously wounded at a political event in Tuscson, Arizona.
- Five U. S. representatives were wounded in March 1954 when three Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on the in-session House from the Ladies’ Gallery.
- In 1856 Representative Preston Brooks (D-SC) viciously caned Senator Charles Sumner (R-MA) nearly to death on the floor of the U. S. Senate over a political difference on the issue of abolition.