We recently celebrated National Civility Day, and I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you what brought the current political divide into a more profound perspective for me.
In June of 2017, at the Republican team practice for the Congressional Baseball Game (a bipartisan game to raise money for charity), a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress. Representative Steve Scalise, my friend who had just come to Cedar Rapids the year before to discuss the flood wall project, was shot multiple times and seriously injured in what was later attributed an act of terrorism fueled by rage against Republican legislators. Days after the shooting, the FBI called my home to inform my wife and me that — while I was not in any immediate danger — they had discovered the shooter did a Google search “Rod Blum Iowa Freedom Caucus” on his computer before his evil act.
I have received death threats and have been advised to have a police escort when doing public events. Sadly the vitriol extends beyond just me. My daughter has been sent messages hoping she dies from cancer, my wife has been threatened by “we know where you live” comments, and my office in Cedar Rapids was relocated to a more secure location because staffers received in-person threats to burn the building down. My social media accounts are full of hatred, threats, and cruel dialogue that does nothing but deepen political divides and take us further from productive conversations.
A profession in politics is not for the faint of heart. You need to have a thick skin, a sense of humor and strong family support to maintain a positive and optimistic outlook. I, like many of my colleagues, are on the receiving end of similar hate-filled messages daily. Certainly there must be a line that separates legitimate political criticism and hate mongering.
At what point should politicians say enough is enough? At what point should citizens say enough is enough? What tragedy has to happen before Americans can stand together and denounce hateful and dangerous rhetoric?
Despite the media’s portrayal of political division in Washington, it is possible to collaborate civilly on issues like bettering access to health care for veterans, improving Social Security and Medicare benefits for our seniors, funding Alzheimer’s research, and implementing programs to assist families struggling as a result of the opioid epidemic. Over the last three years I’ve worked for — and voted for — many bipartisan bills such as the education bill and transportation bill. Sadly over the last 18 months resistance and obstructionism — for political gain — has poisoned the spirit of bipartisanship in Washington.
Working together in a respectful manner to help the American people is far more important than what party is in power. And the sooner that happens the better.
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• Rod Blum is a Republican U.S. representative who represents Iowa’s 1st District.