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Both parties owe the nation a more civil political dialogue

Television crews line the emergency entrance at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, where House majority whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana was taken after being shot in Alexandria, Va., during a congressional baseball practice. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

A violent attack on elected officials is a violent attack on democracy itself. James T. Hodgkinson, 66, evidently didn’t like Republicans like Steve Scalise, the politician voters in Louisiana had chosen to represent them — so he went to a baseball field in Alexandria, Va., and shot him in cold blood on Wednesday morning, along with other members of a GOP team holding an early-morning practice.

Hodgkinson was wounded by police protecting the congressmen and died a few hours later. Scalise was in critical condition at a Washington hospital. Several others were injured in the shooting, including two Capitol police officers.


After officials confirmed Hodgkinson’s identity, social media profiles emerged that provided hints about potential political motivations for the shooting. He was a supporter Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a writer of letters to his local newspaper supporting Democrats, and a member of a Facebook group called “Terminate the Republican Party.” Hodgkinson lived in a St. Louis suburb, but had spent time recently at anti-Trump protests in Washington.

Sanders, along with all other Democratic Party leaders in Congress, quickly denounced the attack. “I am sickened by this despicable act,” Sanders said. “Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs counter to our most deeply held American values.”

Those were the right sentiments, although they’re not likely to put to rest Republican criticisms of the tenor of some anti-Trump groups and activists. A few were already arguing that the “left” had somehow inspired the violence.

The connection between the broader political climate and individual acts of violence is never a straight line, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In 2011, Tea Party supporters bristled at the suggestion that they had anything to do with creating a toxic political environment that contributed to a gunman’s attack on then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat. But a person like Hodgkinson doesn’t exist in a vacuum. No single person apart from Hodgkinson is to blame for his actions, but both parties have to commit to a less inflammatory political discourse.


After the Giffords shooting, where she was severely injured and six people died, here is what this page said:

“Liberals are justified in expressing alarm over the coarsening of the political dialogue. But those who have rushed to blame conservative causes or leaders for the killings should pause and consider whether they, too, are waving a bloody shirt and feeding a culture of denunciation.”

Sadly, only the place of liberal and conservative in that sentence has changed.