~By David Rothman in Washington
After the neo-Nazi Richard Spencer got punched in the face, many of my fellow progressives laughed.
Wrong. Our tolerance of political violence should be zero. I join millions of Democrats and Republicans alike in wishing for the speedy and full recoveries of Rep. Steve Scalese and other victims of the baseball-field shooting here in Alexandria, Virginia. Thanks to our brave local police as well as the Capitol Hill Police for limiting the mayhem.
My multi-ethnic hometown is normally peaceful and harmonious. A Confederate statue, unmovable due to an old law still imposed on us by our GOP-dominated State Legislature, stands undefaced in the middle of Washington Street.
For that matter, Spencer runs his racist think tank out of an Alexandria townhouse and hasn’t been shot at yet even if a gym has expelled him. Good. Let bullets rip apart no one of any ideology.
But as deplorable as the baseball-field shooting was—officials should have prosecuted the suspect to the max, had he lived—I’ll avoid “Don’t blame the victim” rhetoric. Granted, House Majority Whip Scalese is father to two children, and I hope he lives to 108. But do blame Scalese and like-minded politicians as a group–along with some extreme leftists – for helping to make violence and hate crimes more common. This is not “political exploitation.” It is simply the truth.
Scalese is a steadfast supporter of Donald Trump, who has described the congressman as “a true friend.” Trump set the tone for the 2017 Presidential campaign. When a heckler interrupted him at a rally, the then-candidate said: “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
Extra-stringent, truly comprehensive gun control at the federal level may or may not have prevented the baseball-field shooting Wednesday. Still, a national ban on working assault weapons in the hands of civilians would have at least partly stymied violence-prone “Second Amendment people” of all ideologies.
Of Hillary Clinton, Trump said: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks… although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is, I don’t know.”
The New York Times cut to the chase. “Oblique as it was, Mr Trump’s remark quickly elicited a wave of condemnation from Democrats, gun control advocates and others, who accused him of suggesting violence against Mrs Clinton or liberal jurists. Bernice A. King, daughter of the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr, called Mr Trump’s words ‘distasteful, disturbing, dangerous.’”
Extra-stringent, truly comprehensive gun control at the federal level may or may not have prevented the baseball-field shooting Wednesday. Still, a national ban on working assault weapons in the hands of civilians would have at least partly stymied violence-prone “Second Amendment people” of all ideologies. Smartgunlaws.org says: “A review of mass shootings between January 2009 and January 2013 by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that incidents where assault weapons or large capacity ammunition magazines were used resulted in 135% more people shot and 57% more killed, compared to other mass shootings.”
Across the river from me, D.C. law prohibits assault weapons. No such luck in most of Illinois, the shooter’s home state, or in Virginia – adults here can own them.
Meanwhile, some past polls have shown that most Americans are at odds with the National Rifle Association on the assault weapon issue. A federal ban on these killers existed once, flawed but still useful. No more, thanks to the NRA and gun makers with fat wallets. Steve Scalese himself received at least $5,000 from the NRA in the 2016 election cycle.
Will Republican ideologues like Scalese listen? I doubt it, and, alas, that is at their own peril. As the Alexandria tragedy may show, right-wing crazies aren’t the only nuts with assault rifles. If I were a GOP congress member, I’d be scared. Same for Democrats, too. A deranged Republican may seek revenge or target a political foe for other reasons. The shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords reminded us of the risks in both directions.
I hope Congress sets aside more money for security precautions. But in the end the best way to reduce threats to Republican members’ lives, whether they admit it or not, will be a mix of gun control and compassion toward the millions whom GOP lawmakers are now dead set on shafting in various ways–to free up billions in tax cuts for wealthy campaign donors.
In this case, the alleged shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, was apparently a former Bernie Sanders volunteer said to be “living out of a gym bag” at age 66. He is dead. We don’t know what he was thinking. But we can speculate and remember all angry people for whom Republican healthcare would be a death sentence, whether or not this was true for Hodgkinson. Laws, yes, can kill. To slightly tweak a campaign line that Trump used in an entirely different context, some may think: “What do I have to lose?” Steve Scalese has fought hard for Republicans’ misleadingly ballyooed healthcare legislation, aka “wealthcare” via tax cuts for the rich.
Again, no one should be shot or even punched. No justification! Realistically, however, if smug Republican don’t learn and if they keep enraging so many people, they are multiplying the chances of death at the hands of their victims. Forget the fruits of gerrymandering and voter suppression and corrupt campaign laws. May the Republicans instead think survival. The risks will only grow as gun-toting Trumpists finally grasp the extent of their betrayal.
I hope Congress sets aside more money for security precautions. But in the end the best way to reduce threats to Republican members’ lives, whether they admit it or not, will be a mix of gun control and compassion toward the millions whom GOP lawmakers are now dead set on shafting in various ways–to free up billions in tax cuts for wealthy campaign donors. What’s more, among many other messages, an impeachment of Trump would be a powerful statement against violence in campaign rhetoric even if his bloody language weren’t an official reason. Don’t be fooled by a reality show star’s ability to act “Presidential” at times. And no false equivalents, please. Democrats have had their lapses, but not from within the Oval Office.
Let Republican and Democrats play baseball together and otherwise socialize and become much, much friendlier at the personal level. But let this not this interfere with the removal from office of Donald “Carry them out on a stretcher” Trump. The shooter must have been a sick man inside. But so is a fomenter of violence like President Trump, and bipartisan amnesia about his past words and deeds will ill-serve us.
—David Rothman is the Founding Editor of Teleread, author of The Solomon Scandals. Opinions express in this article are the author’s own