There is no mistaking that James T. Hodgkinson, the 66-year-old man who fired more than two dozen rounds at Republican lawmakers and staff practicing for the annual Congressional baseball game Wednesday morning, had political motivations for his assault.
And there is no confusion about what his politics were.
He spelled them out on his Facebook page, writing that Republicans are “racist and sexist,” he called one Republican Congresswoman a “bitch” and declared President Donald Trump is a “traitor” who should be destroyed.
The New York Times reported that Hodgkinson was distraught by Trump’s victory.
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“I know he wasn’t happy with the way things were going, the election results and stuff,” said his brother, Michael Hodgkinson. He wanted to take his protest to Washington.
What else is new?
Anyone who is active on social media, or for that matter reads and watches the news, will not find such comments or sentiments unusual — inside or outside of Washington.
They were not uncommon under the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, both of whom endured an excessive amount of name-calling by political rivals.
But the level of public discourse clearly has changed when a remarkably angry but otherwise mentally competent individual (at least given what we know right now) feels compelled to achieve the political change he seeks by attempting to eliminate his opponents, turning a baseball practice into a killing field.
The New York Times’ editorial board erroneously claimed the 2011 shooting that wounded Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords and killed half-a-dozen others was incited by Sarah Palin’s political action committee, whereas Wednesday’s attack showed “no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack.”
On the contrary, all indications are that Hodgkinson’s assault was nakedly ideological.
And while any act of violence causing injury or death is horrific, there is something especially terrifying about violence motivated by politics.
It is a direct attack on our democracy.
And heaven knows our democracy is being tested during what certainly feels like an unprecedented era of savage partisanship.
While the “resistance” movement that has embraced so much ugliness was catalyzed by Trump’s election, the seeds of such visceral hatred were planted long before.
Trump is the outgrowth of one faction’s anger; his election the stimulus for another faction’s revenge.
Each bears some responsibility for its part in fomenting the kind of resentment that would ultimately erupt in the kind of event that left Republican Majority Whip Steve Scalise and several others bleeding on a field.
It was just a matter of time; a question of which side would shoot first.
Hodgkinson supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in his presidential bid and is reported to have disliked Hillary Clinton, even calling for her to cede the Democratic nomination.
But it is Republican lawmakers who were the targets of his violence.
Residents of Alexandria, Va., where the attack occurred, had seen him for weeks, silently watching the playing field that would become ground zero for his rage.
His assault was neither random nor abrupt.
The temptation for opportunism after a blatantly political attack will be especially strong for Republicans who remember well how many Democrats made hay out of the Giffords tragedy.
One Democratic operative was quoted in Politico encouraging his party to “deftly pin [the shooting] on the tea partiers … Just like the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people.”
Republicans need to do better than that.
They must respond to Wednesday’s shooting by avoiding careless accusations that fan the flames of outrage that resonate with angry people like Hodgkinson. So far, they have.
Everyone is responsible for their words, especially in politics, but there is a distinction, both legal and moral, between expressing outrage and inciting violence.
Hodgkinson apparently could not tell the difference.
Republicans can and they should.