When “The personal becomes the political,” you get the shooting in Alexandria, Virginia.
When “Fighting for fighting’s sake” becomes the new normal, you get the shooting in Alexandria, Virginia. When every political hill is made to look like it’s worth dying over and every political fight is made to look as if it’s a war, you get the shooting in Alexandria, Virginia.
When activism is all you know and confirmation bias is all you seek, you get the shooting in Alexandria, Virginia. When emotionally-charged groupthink replaces well thought-out critical analysis, you get the shooting in Alexandria, Virginia.
When each election becomes “The Most Important Election in Our Lifetime™,” you get the shooting in Alexandria, Virginia.
American political discord has been on a collision course towards something like this week’s shooting in Alexandria for some time now. The only true mystery was how it would play out and how honestly both sides of the aisle would accept their share of the blame.
On the Left you have an “Anything Goes” attitude towards political combat which goes back decades. Today, it manifests itself as “The Resistance,” a do-whatever-is-necessary opposition to President Donald Trump who have taken the art of the political freakout to new levels by turning the mundane actions which every presidential administration does into an almost non-stop series of 24-hour scandals, weekend themed protests, and tantrum-filled town halls.
While many on the Right, feeling hamstrung by decades of seeing their side play by “Marquess of Queensbury Rules” when the other side clearly wasn’t, have openly embraced a champion – false though he may be – in Trump believing he will “fight” when others before him didn’t. Gone are the days of principled moral stances based on the debate of facts, reason, and logic. What stands now in its place is a political tribalism where the color of the jersey matters more than the argument being offered.
Conflict, no matter what form it takes, was inevitable.
But placing blame on one individual, be it Trump, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, conservative talk radio hosts, or MSNBC’s primetime lineup, for Alexandria is ridiculous. What is to blame is our growing rhetoric that everything (EVERYTHING!) in American politics is life and death (trust me, it’s not), and that it’s the end of the republic if you don’t get your way. (The nation survived a literal Civil War, ratchet down the hyperbole.)
Yet, when you add people like Alexandria shooter James Hodgkinson into that equation, a man who already had a history of violent behavior and few examples of finding positive outlets for his rage, and you create ticking time bombs. Hodgkinson is but the latest in a long line of the mentally unbalanced to use their political hatreds to commit violence against others.
It’s unlikely he will be the last.
Is there a sane way for the country to regain its sense of political civility? Well, we could outlaw 24/7 cable networks and send social media websites like Facebook and Twitter into the sun, but those genies won’t fit back into the bottle. Perhaps the best thing is for us to remember that politics isn’t everything. It sounds simple, but it’s an easy lesson to forget.
Having worked on a few statewide campaigns, the best advice I ever learned from one of our consultants wasn’t political, but personal. He told me, “Don’t forget to hit your off switch.” It was a not-so-subtle reminder that while we may have been busting our butts in the campaign office day-in and day-out, you still needed to find a time to let it go and live your life – if only to keep yourself sane.
If the events of Alexandria have shown us anything, it’s that we as a nation need to find our collective “Off Switch” when it comes to our heated political rhetoric. There’s nothing wrong with fighting for a cause, but it need not be the all-encapsulating purpose of one’s existence. Political activism shouldn’t be seen as a higher calling than that of parent, grandparent, spouse, neighbor, and friend.
The country needs to take a deep breath and reassess its priorities when it comes to their lives. Politics may indeed be war by other means, but it’s no excuse to start wanting his or her political opponents killed in a rain of gunfire.
Because if we can’t find our collective off switches, then what happened Wednesday morning in Alexandria will be just the beginning.