EDITORIAL: Political divide turns deadly

Franklin and Marshall College political pollster, G. Terry Madonna, told us earlier this week that the shocking event didn’t come “out of the blue.”

York Dispatch
  • A GOP-targeted shooting this week was carried out by a man apparently upset with the president.
  • The tenor of political discourse across the United States has steadily deteriorated and brought us to this moment

One of the most sobering pieces of reporting we have done in some time occurred Wednesday, when The York Dispatch contacted local experts, activists and politicos for reaction about the shooting on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, that injured House GOP Whip Steve Scalise and others.

In this undated file photo, James Hodgkinson holds a sign during a protest outside a U.S. Post Office in Belleville, Illinois. Hodgkinson has been identified as the suspect in the Wednesday, June 14, 2017, Washington, D.C., shooting. (Derik Holtmann/Belleville News-Democrat via AP)

The alleged shooter is an Illinois man identified as James T. Hodgkinson, according to The Associated Press. Based on his social media postings, Hodgkinson was an anti-GOP zealot with a beef against the party and President Donald Trump.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, of South Carolina, said he had just left the baseball practice and encountered the apparent gunman in the parking lot before the shooting, the AP reported. The man calmly asked which party’s lawmakers were practicing, and Duncan told him they were the Republicans. The man thanked him.

As the investigation into the incident continues — Hodgkinson was killed by officers assigned to Scalise’s security detail — much of the reporting points to the harsh reality that the shooting was politically motivated.

While it is likely that Hodgkinson, who had been living out of a van in Alexandria since March, was suffering from mental health issues, one fact remains: The tenor of political discourse across the United States has steadily deteriorated and brought us to this moment.

Shooting leads to calls to close political divide

On Wednesday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others called for unity in a time of great divide and tragedy.

Hodgkinson volunteered for Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, according to reports. The Vermont Democrat issued a statement condemning Hodgkinson’s actions.

"I am sickened by this despicable act," Sanders said in the statement. "Let me be as clear as I can. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society, and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms."

Franklin and Marshall College political pollster G. Terry Madonna told us earlier this week that the shocking event didn’t come “out of the blue.” Instead, he said, as the political divide has increased, so has the probability of violence.

Madonna also said this incident won’t likely change the way we have turned politics into a blood sport in this country, a zero-sum game that has little to do with listening to one another and everything to do with shouting — at one another and our politicians who hold town halls where they likely increasingly worry for their safety, given the heated abuse many take.

As members of Congress took to the airwaves this week, many expressed their commitment to continued accessibility while lamenting the treatment they — and sometimes members of their families — receive on social media and at public events like town hall meetings.

Madonna pinned his hope on a younger generation, who he believes may not be as susceptible to partisan loyalty and passion.

But older generations — baby boomers and Gen Xers — also need to step up and find ways to engage in civil discourse, compromise and empathy. Let’s do something about the consequences of this political game, in which the stakes have become much too high.