My baseball glove sits in a closet, the leather dry and cracked. It has been there for several years now, since I last played on the Democratic congressional baseball team.
Played is a bit of an exaggeration, since my game participation consisted of one futile at-bat and a few turns as a pinch runner. Still, I loved to practice on spring mornings, playing catch with my colleagues, shagging fly balls and taking batting practice. I will not soon forget the feeling I had when I smashed one against the left field fence, even if I probably could never have legged a double out of it.
I also won’t forget the anxious feeling I had every morning, a sitting duck with a couple dozen members of Congress and no security except each other. I was hyper-conscious about anyone who lingered nearby. I always wondered whether there was a crazy person with a gun who had a beef with Democrats.
Fortunately I never had to confront a guy like James Hodgkinson, the disturbed individual who attacked my Republican colleagues at their practice last Wednesday, wounding Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others before he was shot by Capitol Police officers. But somehow I knew it was inevitable.
Although we will never know for sure, Hodgkinson apparently decided to target a few Republican members of Congress because he was furious at Donald Trump. It is hard to understand how he thought gunning down Steve Scalise might resolve his political frustration — maybe he considered himself a martyr — but his anger is certainly not unique.
This is the era of the Angry American. We don’t even seem to care about getting even, just about getting mad, especially when politics are involved. We don’t want to discuss the substance of issues; we just scream at the other team about their motives, their judgment and their intelligence. It’s almost like we consider it a waste of time to fashion a logical argument, because we know the other side won’t listen.
We don’t believe the media, the business community, the religious community, and certainly not the government, except for the ones wearing our team colors.
And pity the politician, liberal or conservative, who suggests a compromise, because compromise is tantamount to treason.
Nothing can excuse using a gun to settle a political score. James Hodgkinson earned the condemnation he has gotten from virtually every Republican and Democrat. But our initial few days of soul searching have not begun to yield an answer as to why our politics has turned so angry and how we might make them more civil and respectful.
It is pretty obvious that partisan-oriented media, and the debates conducted on them, have hardened the views of many Americans. Americans have sorted themselves by political orientation, and unlike earlier political eras, it seems everyone on your side disagrees with everyone on their side. And since we generally live, pray, play and work with people of like minds, we don’t regularly have thoughtful discussions about complex subjects. We just default to our team colors and impute evilness and ignorance to “those” people, even if we might agree with them if we actually listened. Unfortunately, no one listens to the other team.
One thing those of us inside the game can do is to make sure our constituents realize that we legitimately like our colleagues in the other party. When we played nice at the congressional baseball game last Thursday, it wasn’t an act. The “act” is when we do rhetorical battle on the House floor and in committee hearings, or on cable news shows. We all understand that we are in political theatre, but we also have to understand that our audiences don’t understand that. We have to help people realize that we can like people with whom we disagree. Think marriage.
We should never hold back when we are fighting for our positions, but we shouldn’t act like we are literally ready to fight.
As conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote, “Police what you say for lies, for slander, for stupidity, for simple vileness. Don’t be Sean Hannity; don’t be Kathy Griffin. Abjure the sword, the gun, the bomb. But don’t parse your every word for what a maniac might make of it. This is a free country, and still, thank God, a mostly peaceful one. Say what you believe.” •
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, founder of LEO, has represented Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District since 2007.