This morning a gunman opened fire on a gathering of congressional Republicans practicing baseball for an upcoming charity game.
Catholic congressman and Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot and injured, along with a staffer and two Capitol Hill Police members. The same brave Capitol Hill Police returned fire and injured the shooter before he was eventually apprehended. The shooter has since died of his injuries. Rep. Scalise and those injured remain hospitalized.
President Trump and Democratic leaders have condemned the violence and called for unity.
And rightly so. But platitudes about unity aren’t enough.
I suspect you sense, as I do, that something is deeply wrong in our country.
Our political climate, egged on by the media, grows coarser every day. Student mobs are destroying college campuses while town hall meetings have been reduced to shouting and chaos. A prominent comedian complains about a ‘backlash’ after she posed with the severed bloody ‘head’ of the President of the United States, while large corporations (and taxpayers) sponsor public productions depicting the assassination of the President.
And we wonder how an incident like this morning can happen?
According to reports, the shooter happened to be a supporter of Bernie Sanders who belonged to a group titled: “Terminate the Republican Party” and posted hateful rhetoric about destroying President Trump on Facebook.
The knee-jerk reaction is to blame the Left and their vile antics and rhetoric. I get it. Much of the hatred directed at President Trump and Republicans is despicable and deserves to be condemned. But I also think blaming “a climate of hatred” or “access to guns” or the other explanations offered seem too easy.
Something more is needed.
What drives a person to want to massacre their political opponents? Intolerance? Hatred? Helplessness? Fear? Perhaps a combination of all those. Based on reports, it seems clear the suspect was a progressive activist who feared Republican policies. We don’t know the specifics, but it is fair to assume that his fears, perhaps inflamed by left-wing rhetoric, led to hatred, and eventually to violence.
What can be done?
The theoretical answer: We must restore respect for the dignity of every person and our common humanity — along with respect for each other as Americans — despite our political differences. We must learn to engage in debates and elections, without reducing our opponents to mortal enemies lest some assume violence is the only answer when they lose.
We need solidarity.
I’ll admit, that’s nice rhetoric, but not very easy to apply. But something more needs to happen. Something the Founders of our country understood well.
Perhaps part of the reason for our current hate-filled political climate, distrust, fear and helplessness, is that much of our lives and livelihoods hinge on the machinations of politicians who don’t know us, often live thousands of miles from us, and yet control so much of our lives.
With more and more power ceded to the federal government, is it really surprising to see the stakes rise with every election? Increasingly, elections and the debates that follow have devolved into a battle royale to see who will control the steering wheel.
With so much at stake, a win-at-all-costs mentality becomes almost impossible to resist, while the absence of any common moral culture makes things even worse.
Think about this:
When a change in power in Washington can change your healthcare, your job, access to a school, or even whether you can run your business consistent with your faith… people pay attention. When government can dictate to you how to raise your kids, whether you can live your faith publicly, or whether you can protect your family, elections matter.
Presumably the shooter this morning had a different set of policy priorities. And he feared Republican policies would destroy them. And so he wickedly resorted to violence. But there seems to be a lesson here, that frankly, even many Catholics fail to understand.
The Catholic principle of subsidiarity proposes that matters, especially civic matters, should be resolved at the smallest and least centralized level of society with competency to handle them. (Your local town shouldn’t operate a military; the feds shouldn’t run your local school.)
This is easier said than done, especially when we see a problem that needs addressing. Americans are a people of action. We want results. But subsidiarity isn’t simply about utility or efficiency. In the end, the principle is borne of the Church’s insight into the nature of human communities and our responsibility to live in solidarity with each other.
When Washington D.C. controls your income, your retirement, your healthcare, your kid’s education, your religious freedom, and so much more — then it’s easy to isolate yourself and mark your fellow citizens as friend or foe — based on their politics.
The Church’s principles of subsidiarity and solidarity are the foundations of its social teaching. If we feel like we’re losing a sense of solidarity perhaps it’s because we’ve fostered a culture of isolation and dependency by giving to politicians what rightly should be vested in our local communities, churches, and families.
Subsidiarity makes the neighbor next door relevant, helpful, and needed. You know their kids. You may see them at church. You say hello to them when they walk their dog. Together you are responsible for something more than your own personal needs. Furthermore, your common humanity is nourished, despite your differences, because your differences can’t destroy your life.
‘Limited government’ isn’t just political rhetoric. Checks and balances, separation of powers and federalism help make it possible for solidarity to flourish. But the converse is also true. As long as Washington D.C. continues to absorb more money, power and control, solidarity is inevitably reduced to political organizing.
When horrific events like today’s attempted massacre occur, we should try to work to lower the temperature of our political discourse. Politics is naturally a combative enterprise. But as long as people are forced to measure their lives by what happens in Washington D.C., I worry things will only grow more tense and uncivil. Don’t believe me? Go on social media.
Americans are a good and decent people.
We must work to prevent our politics from destroying us.
Starting with making Washington D.C. far more irrelevant.