On Thursday afternoon, the news about Congressman Steve Scalise remained frighteningly uncertain, even after two surgeries and many units of transfused blood. But, by Thursday night, the news had improved slightly when a statement from the Medstar Washington Hospital Center said that “the Congressman will require additional operations, and will be in the hospital for some time” but although his condition remains “critical,” said the hospital, he “has improved in the last 24 hours.”
Lobbiest Matt Mika, who was also badly wounded in the shooting, is reportedly still in intensive care with chest wounds, but his condition was upgraded from critical to “serious.”
The report that a 66-year-old man who was angry about the policies of President Trump opened fire on Republican members of Congress as they were in the middle of baseball practice on a softball field in Alexandria, VA, in a few cases with their kids present, was horrific and sobering news for most Americans.
Those present at the shooting nearly to a person have said that, were it not for the three officer detail of capital police who were assigned to Scalise because of his position as majority whip, what was a terrifying attack would likely have been a bloodbath, “a massacre.”
The officers, two of whom were wounded, kept attacker James T. Hodgkinson from making it on to the field where he could more easily pick off the rest of the Congressional team members, who had few places to find cover.
Of course, as terrible as it was, what happened in Alexandria wasn’t even Wednesday’s worst mass shooting. A few hours after the now dead Mr. Hodgkinson opened fire on members of the U.S. Congress, another gunman killed three men at a UPS facility in San Francisco and then shot himself.
Still the idea of a well-armed and, by-definition, disturbed person deciding that the best solution to his political grievances is to kill as many of those whom he perceives as members of the political opposition, suggests a fracturing of the public discourse that one would hope would concern all of us.
Members of Congress had a day of what sounded like genuine self-searching discussion about not allowing demonization became part of the normally adversarial political discourse.
And then, of course, there is the ever-present gun issue.
Since Wednesday’s Alexandria shooting, essays, Op-Eds, and additional news stories have also added to the conversation in various ways, some better than others.
Here are excerpts from a few we found that we thought were worth checking out.
Domestic Abuse and Mass Shooting
At the New Yorker, staff writer Jane Mayer, who is also the author of the two best selling books, Dark Money, and The Dark Side, looked at the connection between domestic violence and mass shooters, which points to the larger gun conversation. But rather than advocating for any particular policy changes, Mayer’s story brings up a troubling side issue that likely in some way needs to be factored in:
“Within hours of the shooting of the House Majority Whip, Steve Scalise, and four others,” Mayer wrote one couldn’t help but feel tired watching the predictable brief moment of political unity. The country has been through enough horrors to know that political adversaries will soon line up and take their battle stations on Twitter and talk shows as no solutions are found and no lessons are learned. They will blame each other’s political ideologies and rhetoric for the bloodshed. It won’t be long until the conspiracy theorists come along and throw doubt on whether the facts are the facts, or something more sinister.
“No one wants to talk policy reform so soon, but there’s one that is glaringly necessary, and really ought not to be divisive. Wednesday’s shooter, James Hodgkinson, reportedly had a history of domestic violence. Yet he was able to legally obtain an assault rifle. These two facts are incompatible with public safety….”
Mayer also pointed to Rebecca Traistor’s related story about “What Mass Killers Have in Common” for New York Magazine published just under a year ago, in July 2016.
The Daily Beast also quickly turned up some alarming reports about Hodgkinson’s alleged long-term pattern of assaulting family members, specifically, his foster daughter, and others. Here’s an excerpt:
….He was the foster father of at least two girls. The first, Wanda Ashley Stock, 17, committed suicide in 1996 by pouring gasoline on herself and setting herself on fire after a few months of living with the Hodgkinsons, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. The Hodgkinsons gave an interview to the paper after her suicide, calling her a “very practical, level-headed girl.”
Privacy laws do not allow the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to release foster records.
In 2002, Hodgkinson became the foster father of another girl whom he allegedly abused, according to police records.
In 2006, he was arrested for domestic battery and discharge of a firearm after he stormed into a neighbor’s home where his teenage foster daughter was visiting with a friend. In a skirmish, he punched his foster daughter’s then 19-year-old friend Aimee Moreland “in the face with a closed fist,” according to a police report reviewed by The Daily Beast. When Moreland’s boyfriend walked outside of the residence where Moreland and Hodgkinson’s foster daughter were, he allegedly aimed a shotgun at the boyfriend and later fired one round. The Hodgkinsons later lost custody of that foster daughter.
“[Hodgkinson] fired a couple of warning shots and then hit my boyfriend with the butt of the gun,” Moreland told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
Hatred Instead of Disagreement
Over at the LA Times, staff writer Mark Z. Baraback wrote that the shooting is not surprising, occurring as it has at a time when political dialogue has grown ever more poisonous.
Here’s a clip from what Baraback had to say:
The targeted shooting of Republican lawmakers at play yielded a kaleidoscope of emotions Wednesday — anger, revulsion, horror — but little in the way of surprise.
The attack almost seemed a natural, if sick, extension of the virulence that surrounds the country’s increasingly tribal politics.
As if to prove it, events quickly settled into a familiar pattern: finger-pointing, blame-laying, partisan positioning. People today don’t just disagree. They’ve grown to hate the other side…
Not necessarily over issues or ideology, which can be debated or leavened by compromise. But rather as an outgrowth of a deeper pathology, a contempt toward people [one disagrees with] for merely existing.
(By the way, if you’d like a truly disheartening demonstration of this point go to Twitter right now and search under #AlexandriaShootings. There is enough bile coming from both sides to make one want to consider species reassignment.)
Choosing Civility and Respect
Washington Post Opinion writer David Gerson explored thoughts similar to those of Baraback. Here’s an excerpt:
….At the risk of committing sociology without a license, there are a few conclusions we might draw. Extreme partisanship may not be the direct cause of violence. But political violence acts like lightning, illuminating and freezing the whole political landscape for a moment. And what we see is a ready recourse to violence — punches at rallies, assaults, death threats, violent protests and intimidation. The system seems unbalanced — easily veering off course with every provocation.
The capacity for human evil is always there. But stable societies construct restraints. Some of those restraints are institutional — balancing interest against interest, power against power. In America, such institutions are strong, even under considerable current strain. Yet human beings are also restrained by norms — unenforced and unenforceable standards of civility and respect. We rely on character in countless ways to keep people from destroying themselves and each other. And here all the demonization and decapitation fantasies — all the talk of revolution and warfare against our fellow citizens — have taken a toll.
This type of language isn’t new, of course. But the Trump era has unleashed it with a kind of fury. The routine violation of norms has taken on the nature of an arms race….This type of hashtag animus is not merely change but decay. The damage is clear. If words can inspire, then they can also incite or debase. We are on a descending path of enmity.
None of us can magically change that trend on our own. On the other hand, demonization justifies more demonization, and that ball comes back harder with each volley. So perhaps civility and lack of hatred in political disagreement, no matter how vehement that disagreement, can produce its own kind of contagion.
At least that is the hope.
And in case it isn’t obvious, at WitnessLA our thoughts are very much with Congressman Scalise and his family, and also with Matt Mika and his family.
In addition, we are deeply grateful to Special Agents Crystal Griner, David Bailey and Henry Cabrera. Griner and Baily rushed James T. Hodgkinson, despite their own wounds.