Unity and reflection in the wake of terror

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Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis was on the field Wednesday when congressional Republicans’ baseball practice was attacked by gunman who wounded five people before being stopped by the swift, heroic actions of police.

“Is this America’s breaking point?” Davis said during an interview CNN, pointing to what he called “political, rhetorical terrorism” wielded by both the left and right. “It’s my breaking point. We’ve got to end this,” he said.

Six years ago, when former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords’ constituent event was attacked by a gunman, we cautioned against blaming the excesses of free speech for the crime. Back then, fingers swiftly pointed rightward, at the Tea Party and harsh conservative rhetoric aimed at President Barack Obama and Democrats. This time, they pointed leftward, because the shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, was an angry critic of President Donald Trump and Republicans.

We repeat that caution now. Only the assailant is responsible for what happened on that baseball diamond. But the fact that our vitriolic politics served as a backdrop for this despicable act is inescapable, and Davis’ question looms over its aftermath.

There were welcome signs amid Wednesday’s anguish.

“We are strongest when we are unified and when we work for the common good,” Trump said during eloquent remarks Wednesday. Similar calls for unity came from House Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers. The congressional baseball game, a symbol of bipartisanship for decades, would be played as scheduled.

“I hope everyone in our country will take time today to reflect on how our commonalities far outweigh our differences and that we all share in the work of this grand experiment in democracy,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. His Republican counterpart, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, was wounded in Wednesday’s attack.

The shootings were condemned by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who Hodgkinson supported and campaigned for as a volunteer in Iowa during the 2016 presidential race. “Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” Sanders said.

We’re not in the business of restricting free speech. The issues stoking passions in this country are real and serious. Our divisions are stubborn and deep. But thoughtful debate does not have to be swept away by waves of demonization. Criticism does not have to be steeped in utter contempt. Advocacy of violence, even in the guise of a tasteless joke, shouldn’t become common or acceptable. Compromise, comity and the common good must make their way back into our national vocabulary.

A breaking point? That remains to be seen. But it’s a moment that should prompt all of us to climb out of our partisan trenches, look each other in the eye and realize we are not enemies. We’re Americans.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; editorial@thegazette.com

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