Blow and Collins

Sorry I’m late, but here we go…  In “Rhetoric and Bullets” Mr. Blow says our talk should never promote violence, but it needn’t be timid.  Ms. Collins, in “Play Ball, and Then Gunfire,” says the shooting at the congressional baseball practice was awful, but every week we hear bloodier stories.  Well, Gail, this time white Republicans were victims.  But it’s never About Race or About Politics, because nothing is EVER About Race or About Politics.  (Well, unless it’s about the Democrats doing something reprehensible…)  Or rational gun laws…   Here’s Mr. Blow:

In 2011, after Representative Gabby Giffords of Arizona was gravely injured and six others were killed by a shooter in Tucson, I was moved to commit an entire column to condemning the left for linking the shooting so closely to political rhetoric.

Yes, Republican personalities and officials in the wake of Barack Obama’s election had spoken openly about “Second Amendment remedies” and being “armed and dangerous” and “revolution,” but it was not possible to connect the dots between that irresponsible talk and the Tucson shooter.

Now, here I am again, only this time extending the same condemnation to the right for doing the same after four people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, were shot at an Alexandria, Va., baseball field where Republican members of Congress were practicing in advance of a charity game.

The shooter, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, appears to have had strong liberal, anti-Trump, anti-Republican views — among other things, he was a volunteer with the Bernie Sanders campaign — but at the time of this writing, authorities had not announced a motive for the shooting.

The very real possibility that the shooting was politically motivated was clearly on the minds of many, including Representative Rodney Davis, Republican of Illinois, who was at the baseball field during the shooting: “This could be the first political rhetorical terrorist attack, and that has to stop.”

Let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with viewing these incidents through a political lens. Not to do so is naïve and ridiculously self-blinding in a way that avoids reality.

As Katy Waldman wrote for Slate last June:

“Things that happen for political reasons, and have political consequences, demand that we scrutinize them through a political lens. Crying ‘politicization’ is itself politicization — a way to advance whatever slate of politics favors the status quo. Often people invoke policy goals in order to get things done; what’s at stake is whether these tragedies should be regarded as irreducible lightning strikes or problems with potential solutions.”

What I abhor is ideological exploitation that reduces these acts to a political sport and uses them as weapons to silence political opponents and their “rhetoric,” rather than viewing them as American tragedies that we can work together to prevent through honest appraisal and courageous action. Every shooting in this country is a tragedy, and they happen with disturbing frequency here.

As The Washington Post reported, Wednesday’s shooting was the 154th mass shooting so far this year in America. That’s 154 mass shootings in just 165 days. Violence, particularly gun violence, is the American fact, the American shame.

This country has a violent culture, is full of guns, and our federal lawmakers — mostly Republicans, it must be said, because there isn’t any real equivalency — are loath to even moderately regulate gun access.

Pretending that America’s gun violence is a function of collective political rhetoric rather than the nexus of personal mental defect and easy access to weapons is a way of dodging, well, the bullet.

So, here I must take a stand in defense of rhetoric. While rhetoric should never promote violence, it needn’t be timid.

I was impressed by the official responses from Washington. Even Trump’s response was sober and direct, not marred by his typical lack of tact, not like the way he tried to exploit the Pulse Nightclub shooting last year. House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a stately speech from the House floor, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed his sentiments in a noble act of bipartisanship.

At the top, the responses were pitch perfect, but the political debate isn’t confined to the top. It trickles down into the cesspool of social media, which has grown exponentially since Giffords was shot. At that time, Facebook had only about a third of its current number of users, Twitter had about a fifth of its current users, Instagram was just three months old, and Snapchat didn’t exist.

On social media, where anonymity provides cover for vitriol, violent threats are a regular feature.

When Gabby Giffords wrote on Twitter, “My heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the US Capitol Police – public servants and heroes today and every day,” she was met with a sickening number of hateful responses, including one that said, “To bad it was not her.” (Yes, it should have been “too,” but grammar isn’t a major concern in a statement that grotesque.)

It is true that political rhetoric can set a tone that greases the skids for a small number of people who are prone to violence to act on those impulses. We have just gone through a political cycle where that was on full display.

But some rhetoric is necessary and real. I believe Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress are attempting to do very serious harm to the country and its most vulnerable citizens, and I will never stop saying so in the strongest terms I can summon. For many people, this isn’t an abstract policy debate between partisans. For them, these debates — about repealing the Affordable Care Act, for example — are about life and death. But that has nothing to do with the promotion of physical violence; it has everything to do with protecting this country from administrative and legislative violence.

We have to object stridently to proposals that will hurt people, and not be chilled by a deranged man with a gun. Violence is abhorrent and self-defeating, but vociferous resistance to national damage has nothing to do with that violence and must continue unabated.

You can, as I do, have sympathy for the victims of yesterday’s shooting and condemn the shooter, while at the same time raging, nonviolently of course, against an agenda that places other Americans in very real danger.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

When a gunman opened fire on a congressional baseball practice Wednesday, everyone in Washington looked for a positive message. There had to be a point to something so awful. The consensus was for Coming Together.

“For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family,” Speaker Paul Ryan told the House.

“You’re going to hear me say something you never heard me say before,” rejoined Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “I identify myself with the remarks of the speaker.”

“We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good,” said Donald Trump.

This was regarded as one of Trump’s better presidential moments. He didn’t insult anyone, the way he did after the London terrorist attack. He didn’t suggest that in the future, all baseball players should be armed. And let’s hope it lasts. Since the gunman, James Hodgkinson, was known back home in Illinois as a vehement Trump critic, the president could definitely regress back into making the tragedy all about Donald.

But truthfully, American politics has been mean and verbally violent for a lot longer than Donald Trump’s been in the White House. Pelosi — who’s often depicted as the archvillain in Republican campaign ads — has been getting death threats for years. Back in 2010 a San Francisco man admitted to making more than 30 phone calls to Pelosi and her family, threatening to kill her or blow up her house if she voted for health care reform.

Ironically, the practice Hodgkinson’s bullets interrupted was for a ballgame that’s a lonely throwback to the good old days of political congeniality, when people from both parties would debate during the day and then go off to drink together after work. The drinking thing is pretty much over. But the representatives and senators do still get together every year to yell good-natured insults at each other and play ball, Democrats against Republicans.

Even better, there’s a bipartisan women’s softball team that has its own game every year: lawmakers versus reporters from the D.C. press corps.

“It’s really one of the best things we do,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the veteran players.

Gillibrand has a keen memory of the day all the team’s players signed a ball for her good friend Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 while holding a constituent meet-and-greet at a shopping center.

“I’m not shocked or surprised this happened. I lived through this once before,” Gillibrand said. “We’re in a violent time. We’ve seen Sandy Hook, we’ve seen such horrible gun violence in our communities for a very long time.”

The women’s game is next week. “We’ll play,” the senator said. “We’re meant to carry on our lives.”

Creating more comity in Washington is a good goal. (So, by the way, is getting more women in Congress.) But if we’re looking to the congressional shooting for lessons, we also have to talk about guns.

The baseball story was awful — Representative Steve Scalise and three other people were hit by gunfire. But every week in America we hear stories that are bloodier. There were 27 incidents of multiple fatal shootings in the week before Hodgkinson took out a rifle and handgun and started firing. A couple of hours after, an aggrieved UPS employee in San Francisco shot and killed three people and wounded two others before turning the gun on himself.

We’ll be spending the next few days trying to work through Hodgkinson’s history. How did this happen? Were there any warning signs separating him from the hordes of other people who post angry diatribes about politicians? What kind of guns did he use? Where did he buy them?

“I hope this doesn’t devolve into the usual situation where you expect that any one tragedy is going to change the conversation,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He’s been through too much of that already, and it’s true — if 20 little children can be shot in their Connecticut school without triggering national gun law reform, it’s not likely that the wounding of several adults in Virginia will do the trick.

But we’ll keep trying. To start, we need to come together on a consensus that there’s something wrong with a country in which an average of 93 people are killed with guns every day, in which gun homicides are so common that news reports frequently don’t bother to mention how the murderer obtained his weapon, and in which even multiple shootings often don’t make the national news unless there’s some suggestion the crime might be related to terrorism.

Write a letter. Call your representative. Hold a meeting. You can demand laws to keep criminals from buying guns, or laws to keep greedy gun sellers from ignoring background checks, or laws to ban rifles that allow one person to take down several dozen victims without reloading. Even if your hopes aren’t high, keep fighting. This is a righteous cause.

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