On a day filled with bloodshed, we chose to use tragedy as a commodity in a war with ourselves.
Bright and early on Wednesday morning, while a handful of Republican legislators were in the middle of their last practice before the next day’s annual Congressional Baseball Game, a 66-year-old man with a rifle appeared, reportedly firing upwards of fifty shots, wounding a House staffer, a lobbyist, two members of the Capitol Police force, and one sitting member of the House of Representatives. The officers, whose presence at the field almost certainly saved lives, promptly returned fire. The gunman is dead. Steve Scalise, the congressman, is in critical condition. The other four victims, thank God, are expected to make a full recovery.
Shortly thereafter—probably before Alexandria police had even managed to finish cordoning off the crime scene with yellow caution tape—the Twitter hotline lit up, led by our President’s son.*
*(All tweets screen-shot on the off chance the tweeters become self-aware.)
No solemnity. No reflection. Other than some obligatory boilerplate statements thanking first responders and calling for prayers, there was little public conversation about the incident itself. Instead, the questions immediately on everyone’s lips and at everyone’s fingertips amounted to: Which side can claim this bloodied turf? Which party can most convincingly refashion this latest episode of gun violence into supporting evidence for its vision of present-day dystopia, and how we got here? Is he brown, or a refugee, or a guy who goes to a mosque to pray five times a day? muttered half the country. He’s probably a disgruntled, newly-unemployed loner buffing his military-grade weaponry every night, mused the other.
By the afternoon, we had learned that the shooter, James. T. Hodgkinson, fit neatly into neither group. The 66-year-old home inspector apparently campaigned on behalf of Bernie Sanders in his home state of Illinois, and his social media activity—replete with a giant banner image of a smiling Sanders—paints the picture of a man who was furious with Donald Trump and the Republican Party, and who decided to do something about it. Conservatives pumped their fists gleefully.
At the same time, Hodgkinson is a white dude and apparently a bit of a loner, which makes him a member of the demographic group responsible for most of the mass shootings that occur in this country. He also reportedly had a valid firearm license and used a semi-automatic rifle—a gun he might not have had access to if Congress had renewed the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004—to carry out Wednesday’s attack. Liberals nodded sagely.
At this very moment, both sides of the ideological spectrum are engaged in a tug-of-war over an act of brutality that missed being a tragedy only, in the case of those shot, by millimeters. And they’re using it to further an argument no one can even explain, but that we all insist on having. And as gruesomely demonstrated in the hours following Wednesday’s attack, the astonishing rate at which these increasingly less rare acts of violence occur means that the next body-littered land-rush might be only moments away.
Today, the gradual collective acceptance of this process—horrible event happens, tribes rush to claim “I told you so” earlier and louder than the other side, empathy becomes afterthought—has reached a horrible acme that highlights the grim state of our collective psyche. There’s no longer time or space or desire to process what another full day of closed-off streets and body counts means. Every senseless tragedy that scrolls across the news ticker is now, immediately, a political jump ball.
This is happening because America is angry. All of us, all the time, about everything, with everyone else. This country is engulfed in a state of rage and fearfulness unmatched in recent decades; it’s as at war with itself as any moment in the 1860s. When the left, right, and “none of the above” all see the imminent apocalypse in the eyes of the other, a mass shooting becomes only a gleaming rhetorical commodity, another makeshift platform on which to pile sanctimonious one-liners and self-righteous bromides and rigorously bullshit doomsday prophecies. We shrug at the senselessness and look back up at the scoreboard. It’s a tragedy of its own, to be a nation this disgusted with itself.
Here’s What James Comey Had to Say
MORE STORIES LIKE THIS ONE