Members of Congress were attacked last week at a practice for the traditional congressional baseball game by a madman with a gun. Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise is currently fighting for his life. The violence was only kept from being a massacre by the quick and heroic reactions of Capitol Police officers.
It seemed to be only a matter of time before the heated political rhetoric of our day boiled over into real world physical violence. Nonetheless, such moments are not only caused to mourn—they are opportunities to see the cliff’s edge we are heading for, and pull back from the brink.
This moment gave us just such an opportunity.
Some took it, and saw the other side as human beings, and reached across the aisle to try to heal the rift. The baseball game for which the representatives were practicing had previously set an attendance record of about 10,000. This year attendance reached 23,000, and both teams—both political parties—were seen praying together on the diamond before the game. It was a beautiful image. If this were our only indicator of the current political climate, one might almost think we were on the road to recovery.
But others, too many others, rejected this opportunity. Others, too many others, doubled down in their social media trenches and lobbed their explosive, vile tweets across the aisle instead of prayers and well wishes. These are they who said Rep. Scalise “got what he deserved.” That the shooter was justified in his attempts to kill him and other members of Congress. That political differences were enough reason to shed blood and spark a civil war.
Really? This is the side of compassion? Of enlightenment? Of peace and tolerance and love trumping hate?
When such virtues as those are directed only towards those whom with we already agree, they are no longer virtues. It is simply tribalism, the enemy of pluralism, that great foundational philosophy of the American experiment.
But of course, the progressive left isn’t alone in its hypocritical depravity. So many on the religious right have rejected their own gospel message of Christian peace and love, choosing instead to put a cancer of a human being who has lived his life mocking God at their head, enabling the normalization of hateful, violent rhetoric and extremist views. We have not seen such appalling hypocrisy since the people of Jerusalem chose to release Barabbas and crucify Jesus when Pilate gave them the option.
And of course, the GOP itself is throwing the weight of its tribe against America’s institutions, testing the strength of the checks and balances that keep this government under control with greater and greater animosity for them. The prospect of President Trump firing Robert Mueller as special counsel—a move urged by Trump’s sycophants in the “conservative” media—would induce an actual constitutional crisis. When the executive branch of the government seeks to outlaw all attempts to hold it accountable for possible corruption and criminality, it is as much a call to arms as we’ve ever seen in our lifetime.
What we see happening in slow motion is the collapse and failure of the American experiment, the greatest political project of all human history.
And it is the fault of both sides.
As we can remember from 9/11, even times of great shared national crises, in which the various segments of the population unite as one America, don’t last forever. The unity back in 2001 only lasted a couple of years before the chasm opened up—and it has only widened since then. If a disaster on the scale of 9/11 were to happen today, how long do you think the time of healing and unity would last afterward? How long would it be before we started blaming each other and dehumanizing the victims as so many are doing today? It appears to be our forever inevitable path. It’s the path of least resistance, the path of entropy—the path to war.
That might sound overdramatic, but when there’s congressional blood on the streets and we can hear people calling for more, there is no alarm too loud we can ring.
Genuinely conservative radio host Steve Deace recently said, “I think maybe we don’t truly understand how close we came as a culture to a point of no return. I mean I think we almost had an Archduke Ferdinand/Fort Sumter moment. I think we don’t have any idea the Pandora’s Box that might have been opened if Congressman Scalise’s security detail was not there.”
It’s true; this wasn’t as bad as it could be. As if God is holding out, giving us second chances, and third and fourth and fifth chances, warning us that the fires will get hotter and hell will get closer unless we wake up and turn ourselves around.
When it is all said and done, we will look back and see that we indeed had the opportunity to forgive. To reach out. To understand and express real compassion. But, cynical as I am, I see nothing that indicates we’ll recognize them, let alone take advantage of them.
This is partly because those future opportunities—serious crises in which people will almost certainly die—will ask more of us. And if we can’t pay the price that is asked of us at this moment, we certainly will not have the stories of love and forgiveness and understanding needed the next time payment is demanded. Make no mistake: those virtues are the very weapons we need to prevent the war from being fought with guns and explosives.
It is a unique thing that a nation as great and powerful as ours is willing to destroy itself this way. It is not a normal kind of war, but a war of souls. We aren’t being invaded by enemy combatants. Good and evil are not defined by mere borders and different uniform colors. Actual warfare can only be prevented by self-reflection and restraint, and by living virtues rather than merely signaling them. In a battle for our souls, we cannot be harmed by the words and tweets of a clear-cut enemy, but by the very ones, we lob in return. By putting our souls on a path of self-destruction, we are putting our entire nation on a path to war.