In this article, the author discusses lessons learned from the Steve Scalise shooting and the escalating degree of divisive rhetoric that rings of civil war, rebellion, and martyrdom
On June 14th of this year, Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), the House Majority Whip, was shot while participating in a Congressional baseball practice by James Hodgkinson, a 66-year old Illinois man who was reported to harbor a strong resentment toward the sitting President Donald Trump and the GOP. A single bullet from Hodgkinson’s assault rifle struck Scalise in the hip and “travelled across his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs, and causing severe bleeding.” Scalise, who was initially reported to be at “imminent risk of death,” has remained hospitalized since the shooting and has undergone numerous surgical procedures with his condition fluctuating between critical and serious.
As recently as July 5th, Congressman Scalise was transferred back to the Intensive Care Unit due to an internal infection related to the original bullet wounds. Many members of Congress, this current Administration, and the American public have monitored the situation closely since the time this unsettling event unfolded. As an empathetic human being and health care provider, I am personally pulling for the Congressman given that any threat to another’s life is tragic and sad and Scalise is a married father of two.
However, this situation is unique and presents a potentially volatile “powderkeg” by which many latent, divisive, and potentially violent sentiments could be unleashed were the Congressman’s condition to worsen or end tragically. The shooting of a Republican member of Congress on U.S. soil by another American (of different political affiliation – setting aside for the moment that the shooter’s mental health may have played a significant role) tenuously walks the tightrope bridging patriotism and political loyalties.
This “walk” is not trivial given that the reaction of the American public to this incident has spanned from the appropriate discourse on civilian gun ownership to the possibility of a civil war between the very much divided groups of supporters and followers of this Administration.
One would hope that in the wake of the domestic shooting of a sitting Representative by a fellow U.S. citizen we could collectively take this as an opportunity to re-evaluate our stance on gun laws, restrictions, the vetting process for gun ownership, and by doing so, shift the focus from the unlikely threat of foreign terrorism on American soil (1 in 138,000,000) to the more pressing threat of domestic gun violence (1 in 358).
However, the fallout from the Scalise shooting has raised wide-ranging responses, outcries, and debates. One’s sense of patriotism is one “hot topic” that emerged following the events that day. Self-described “patriots” were forced to consider their empathy for Steve Scalise the poilitician versus Steve Scalise the man. Politically, Congressman Scalise has appeared before a reported white Supremacist group (though he denied knowing the group’s dogma at the time), promoted legislation seen as anti-LGBTQ (including opposing same sex marriage), supported the Presidential Executive Order calling for a temporary ban on entry into the U.S. by citizens from a subset of Muslim-majority nations, and, ironically, actively sought to expand access to firearms under the Second Amendment.
Shortly after he was shot, the President visited Scalise’s family at the hospital and then, following the visit, tweeted that the fallen representative was a “true Patriot.” This struck many as an odd statement to make by the President. By what criteria was Scalise a “true Patriot” And to whom was the President comparing Scalise regarding level of patriotism? Does taking a bullet on American soil make one a patriot? Did those who viewed this Representative as unpatriotic previously, because of his stance on specific policies, now have to contradict their previous thoughts and feelings and reassess their views?
A reasonable fear is that Scalise will be assigned some degree of martyrdom as a result of his victimization by domestic gun violence. The politicization of tragedy (or events that result in death or mass casualties) is not unprecedented. In fact, in the hours after the incident, the chairman of the Republican Party in Georgia’s 11th Congressional District predicted that Scalise’s shooting would secure a win for Karen Handel (R) over Jon Ossoff (D) in that district’s special election.
Further, by raising the issue of Scalise’s patriotism, the President has forecasted that the Representative’s ongoing battle and potential martyrdom could be based in, and further fuel, the rampant divisiveness that has enveloped the sociopolitical climate since Trump’s election.
- Could Scalise be martyred to buoy the fight against foreign terrorism? – not likely as there were no ties between the shooter and threats against America from abroad. Not to mention that there have been zero Americans killed by individuals from the six countries identified in the President’s Travel Ban on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015.
- · Could Scalise be martyred as a champion of the fight against “enemies” within the State? – this is where the real danger lies in my opinion. Between 2001 and 2009, there were 91 incidents of domestic terrorism, as defined by the RAND Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents and according to the CDC there are approximately 33,000 deaths by firearm in the U.S. annually.
It would be speculation to estimate the extent to which Hodgkinson’s mental state contributed to his decision to open fire on Republican members of Congress and staffers who were present at the baseball field. What we do know is that he did express animus toward the sitting President, and by proxy, Republican members of Congress and the current Administration.
This shooter was a single man with malicious intent and access to firearms who also represented extreme left wing views in a manner similar to Muslim terrorists who act based on a radical (and violent) interpretation of Islam. In other words, Hodgkinson no more represents the left (Democrats, liberals) any more than terrorists of Muslim origin represent the majority of those of Islamic faith.
However, this distinction becomes blurred in emotionally charged times and, under the strain of sustained duress, individuals tend to act in a manner rooted more in their emotions than on rational thought. Jerold Duquette, an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University, did go as far as to say:
“Donald Trump is corrupt, dishonest, and stupid. Intellectually feeble and mentally unstable people drawn to political extremism have and will be inspired or driven by Trump and trumpism to say and do horrible things…a left wing extremist (Hodgkinson) was driven by Trump and trumpism to try to kill people.”
Duquette’s statements possess the potential for responses to left-wing extremists (and the more left leaning in general) that is equally divisive, vindictive, vengeful, and violent. As Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe pointed out, “There are too many guns on the street” and “there has been too much raw discourse today that is pulling people apart.” Political analyst Barry Edward believes that “America is absolutely the most polarized it’s ever been in our history.” Further the NRA recently released a video that stops just short of calling for widespread inter-party violence with statements such as:
· “All to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia and smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law abiding — until the only option left is for police to do their jobs and stop the madness”
· “The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth”
In addition, the executive vice president and CEO of the NRA identified the academic, political, and media elite to be America’s greatest domestic threats. To further compound the danger, conservative talk show host Dennis Prager recently Tweeted that the media in the West was a greater danger to Western civilization than Russia.
How long before violence incited by the divisiveness in this country is aimed at members of the mainstream media who cover this Presidency, its behavior and politics, reactions from the Left and the Right, and emerging tragic incidents such as the Scalise shooting?
With raw emotions running high and violent rhetoric echoing throughout the Nation, we simply cannot allow these sentiments to spill out and be played out as they did on a Northern Virginia baseball field in mid-June. As one high-profile Twitter user posted yesterday, the “stakes haven’t been this real since 1865.”