Fort Report: Political Violence

Jun 16, 2017
Fort Report

Earlier this week, a gunman opened fire on Members of Congress and staff assistants as they were practicing for the annual bipartisan charity baseball game. Among the many injured was my dear friend and colleague, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. As news of the event came in right before our weekly Nebraska Breakfast, I felt bewildered, shocked, and numb. I learned that Steve was playing second base at the time of the shooting. He tried to crawl off the infield, leaving a trail of blood.

This isn’t a movie. These are not distant figures. These are people I work with on a daily basis. Representative Scalise and I interact frequently on the nuances of policy, and, sometimes, the differences of policy. I am part of what is called “the whip team.” And, no matter what our disagreements—and, believe me, there are hard differences, even on one side of the political aisle—Steve always works with me in a cordial, professional, constructive, and gentlemanly manner. That’s just who he is. So, regardless of what you think of his political viewpoints, Congress, or the GOP, he did not deserve to be shot.

 As noted by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who was at the practice, were it not for the courageous United States Capitol Police officers who accompany Representative Scalise to events, it would have been a “massacre.”

 My heart goes out to Steve Scalise and those affected by this traumatic event. However, my words cannot stop there. For years now, across multiple administrations, across party lines, we have witnessed worsening political rancor in our country. It’s hard to get your mind around some of the stuff people write. It’s awful. And it goes beyond just pointed language. It’s now so frequent, so violent, and so directly threatening, security personnel are working overtime just to keep up.

Many good men and women serve in the United States Congress. These are people who have accomplished important things in their communities and decided they wanted to serve their country in a broader capacity. While Washington, D.C. can seem elitist and aloof, Members of Congress are real people from real places with real families. Sure, there is a disproportionate share of lawyers, but there are also nurses, social workers, teachers, small business owners, and doctors (one of whom, Representative Brad Wenstrup, an Iraq War veteran, tended to Steve’s gunshot wound). Above all, they are Americans.

Nevertheless, there is a limit to what the human person, even a paid public servant, can absorb. We take the violent words, but when it spills into violent action, it’s too much. The country cannot continue to rip itself apart like this.

Within a few hours of the shootings, certain national media had begun to routinize the issue, as they returned to obsessing on the latest crisis du jour in Washington. And why not? The assassin was "a troubled man," a "lone wolf" with a history of violence who was likely "mentally ill." Nothing unique to see here. Friends, these were not our thoughts after the assassination attempt on President Reagan or the shooting of Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona. When President Kennedy was shot, I understand it seemed as though the entire world came to a halt. If we are now going to move beyond words and normalize the violent targeting of people just because they chose to pursue public service, hold views that are different from our own, or speak in a style that is not to our liking, then there is no country. I find the widely praised theatrical assassination of President Trump at a rendition of Julius Caesar in New York City’s Central Park (underwritten by The New York Times) to be particularly jarring.

As we see in our battle against ISIS, when you call for evil to happen on social media, in mainstream media, and in art, eventually someone in the real world takes it to heart. This is no longer about free speech—it's about freedom from violence. The responsibility of freedom of speech demands that we must come together to denounce this poison ripping our country apart. Enough is enough.

In a hint of good news, the House of Representatives in a private session (Democrats and Republicans) had a family meeting and with due candor spoke about the impact of escalating rhetoric. And the baseball game went on as planned Thursday night. I took my younger staff. The game was energetic and patriotically bipartisan. My side lost—but America won.