Here are the facts: in the early morning hours, a gunman shot several people, severely wounding a member of the US House of Representatives. Almost immediately, some people began blaming the shooting on a climate of hate stoked by the opposition party.
Those were the facts in 2011 when Jared Lee Loughner shot Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, AZ, and those were the facts yesterday when James Hodgkinson shot Rep. Steve Scalise in Alexandria, VA during practice for a charity baseball game.
In 2011, many prominent Democrats blamed Republicans, and Sarah Palin in particular, for the shooting. They argued the anti-Obama and anti-government rhetoric of the Tea Party, along with a map Palin created with cross-hairs over 20 Congressional districts she was targeting in the upcoming election, caused a climate of political hatred that manifested itself in an act of political violence.
Today, some Republicans are likewise blaming Democrats. They point to the over the top rhetoric about Trump – that he is a Russian spy, a dictator, stole the election, is not a real president, “resist!”, etc – and argue this created a climate of political hatred that manifested itself in an act of political violence.
To be sure, Republicans have an easier argument to make. Jared Lee Loughner is legit crazy. He thinks grammar is part of a conspiracy to control people’s minds. He didn’t go on a shooting spree because of Sarah Palin or a rational political motive, he did it because he is coo coo for Cocoa Puffs.
It is still early, and Hodgkinson was killed in the gun fight so we cannot interrogate him, but the evidence thus far suggests his motives were entirely political. His Facebook page includes posts calling Republicans “the taliban of the USA” and saying “It’s time to Destroy Trump & Co.”
The investigation is ongoing, but for the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that Hodgkinson’s attack was entirely politically motivated; that he shot at random Congressmen and Senators solely because they are Republicans and no mental illness played a part like it did in Tucson. In that situation, which seems likely, the blame still lies solely with Hodgkinson.
One the one hand, I understand the impulse to blame Democrats writ large. A far left liberal just tried to murder people for no other reason than that they believe the things I believe in. The natural reaction is to group everyone into two categories: us vs them.
One of them just tried to murder several of us after they have spent decades unfairly demonizing us. But it was only one of them. And the rest of them stood with us and condemned Hodgskinson and his evil act. We, the people of the United States of America, left and right, all condemned him and his evil act.
Part of being conservative is an acceptance of individual freedom and individual responsibility. There are tens of millions of people who heard the exact same exaggerated claims about Trump and Republicans that Hodgskinson heard, but didn’t think the solution was to grab a rifle and start shooting. Hodgskinson alone decided political violence was the answer. Yes, it is abhorrent what some Democrats say about Republicans, but they did not encourage or precipitate violence.
The moment we start blaming whole swaths of people and political speech itself for the violent and illegal actions of one man, we start down a dangerous path.