James Hodgkinson opened fire on a group of congressmen after ascertaining they were Republicans. He wounded several people and was killed himself by Capitol police, who were present to protect House Whip Steve Scalise. Hodgkinson was an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter and had a social media history indicated severe disdain of President Trump.
The first thing to be said is that some people simply become unbalanced. There are problems of mental illness, drug imbalances, traumatic events and other catalysts for violence. But it seems fair to say that whatever Hodgkinson’s problems, his behavior was not helped by a political atmosphere that has become more poisonous than most of us have seen in our lifetimes.
MSNBC labels its political programming “The Resistance.” Left-wing rhetoric features claims that the Affordable Care Act alternative pushed by Republicans will be responsible for many deaths. The media irresponsibly pushes a grand narrative of Trump collusion with the Russian government that has thus far fallen well short of living up to reportorial billing. Before I go further, it is necessary to say that this inflamed approach to news and politics is not something that is unique to the left. The right is more than capable of pushing conspiracies and encouraging contempt.
In this sort of media climate, we need to recognize that politics is ultimately about power. Coercive force is the thing that makes politics different from other human activities. Because of the gravity of government action, we must take upon ourselves the burden of civic virtue. That means that we are slow to believe and spread rumors. It means we inform ourselves and take the trouble to distinguish sources.
In short, we need to become more Spock-like. We need to know things and to remain calm. Poise and equanimity are attributes suitable for citizens rather than the subjects of some dictator or ruler. We increasingly live in the fervor of the person addicted to drama. Such emotionalism is poison for a decent form of politics. Power is better complemented by circumspection than by the constant impression of “the moral equivalent of war” being fought.
This includes learning about how our government works well enough to realize that the U.S. Constitution provides a well-balanced process for deliberation and compromise. If we would truly honor the text, we would find that the national fever would likely subside. If we are going to have an overriding passion as citizens, let it be a passion for fealty to the constitution and for the genius of federalism, which should help us to avoid dealing with every problem through the central government.
We could substantially reduce friction in culture wars and economic wars by simply devolving policy to the states and to local communities as much as possible. Over time, we have defeated the design of the constitution. Now, we reap the fever pitch that comes from having made every issue an affair of over 300 million people.
It would be far better to let the “laboratories of democracy” do their work and point the way to good laws. Instead, we act as if we are owned by the government and thus face an existential threat whenever our theological head is of a different stripe. Were we to put government in its place, the problem would not seem nearly so pressing.
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