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A Red Line Crossed

Omri Nahmias, Washington, D.C.

Charity Ball Game Practice Becomes a Shooting Range

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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PARTING SHOT The shooting marked the crossing of a red line, the moment when partisan discord metastasized into murderous hate. Though there have been a number of physical confrontations involving people of differing political views, gun violence seemed beyond the pale. Until now

A t what point do words become like bullets?

It’s a theoretical question that took on concrete significance last week, when a politically motivated shooter from Illinois took aim at Republican lawmakers practicing for a charity baseball game.

James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois, was a Trump hater who believed the president was taking the country in the wrong direction. Not content simply to protest the president, Hodgkinson took his gun, drove to Virginia, and tried to murder those lawmakers who support him.

Hodgkinson was killed in the melee, but not before he wounded Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip from Louisiana. As of press time, Scalise’s condition had been upgraded from critical to serious.

Soon after the shooting, a small neighborhood café on Monroe Street in Alexandria was packed to capacity with journalists, photographers, and police detectives — some still dressed in their workout clothes from an early morning gym session — who had gathered to collect more information and register the shock of onlookers.

Indeed, it felt as though the shooting marked the crossing of a red line, the moment when partisan discord metastasized into murderous hate. Though there have been a number of physical confrontations involving people of differing political views, gun violence seemed beyond the pale. Until now.

In a gesture of unity, members of Congress decided to play the baseball game the next day, as scheduled. Outside Nationals Park, where the major league Washington Nationals play, a long line of spectators snaked around the stadium. Among those waiting to see the game was Jack Barney, a data analyst from Alexandria.

“I feel like there are a lot of people who don’t try to understand other people’s point of view, and when others disagree with them, they get angry,” he said, in an attempt to explain the shooting. “Maybe that’s what happened yesterday.” He added: “You hope that people would come together, forget the differences, and just learn to be nicer to each other.”

In the days since last Wednesday’s shooting, Fox News reported that Hodgkinson was carrying in his pocket a list of five names, all of them members of the House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative group in Congress. The shooter, a Bernie Sanders supporter, had been living in a white cargo van for months and frequenting a YMCA that overlooked the practice field.

Not far from Barney stood Andrew, a middle school teacher from Des Moines, Iowa. His students came for a class trip to Washington, D.C., and the teachers decided to take them to the charity game.

“I wasn’t aware that this game even existed... There is so much hatred. It’s all about whether you are Democrat or Republican, and that makes people judge you” —Andrew, teacher from Des Moines, Iowa

“I wasn’t aware that this game even existed until we heard about the incident yesterday,” Andrew said. The teacher said he hoped the incident would force members of Congress to come together to work toward common goals, but wasn’t sure if the lesson would stick. “We will see if [the nonpartisanship] lasts more than a couple of days.”

“There is so much hatred,” he added. “Now, it’s all about whether you are Democrat or Republican, and that makes people judge you. Obviously, both parties have good ideas and there are really good people on both sides. Everybody is focusing on the negative and not the positive.”

Inside the stadium, the atmosphere was festive during the game. Spectators lined up for hot dogs, nachos, and beers and mingled freely. Many of the attendees wore pins of one of the political parties, some of them declining interviews because they worked in the offices of a member of Congress. During the game, CNN interviewed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Both spoke about the need to unite ranks, even in times of discord. “We are all Team Scalise tonight,” Pelosi said. President Donald Trump also relayed messages that were unifying and presidential. In this sense, the first days after the shooting were a paragon of political good behavior.

The question now is how much longer it will last, and if, beyond that, the deeper message of maintaining the boundaries of respectful political dialogue — even in times of discord — will be learned. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 665)

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