Guest Editorial: Violent attack at ballpark can’t be politics as usual

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It was a classic American scene: Early in the morning, a group of men practicing for a baseball game against work rivals.

But these weren’t regular guys. They were members of Congress. Nevertheless, they were playing in a public park, where anyone could come and watch. In this country, elected representatives don’t wall themselves off from the people they serve. Not usually.

Then the unthinkable happened at the ballfield in Alexandria, Virginia on Wednesday: Someone started shooting. A congressman, a staffer, a lobbyist and two police officers providing security were hit before the attacker was brought down with a fatal wound.

Most shocking of all: It appears this was an attempted political assassination, an effort to kill because the targets were Republicans. Has it come to that?

Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House majority whip, was among those wounded. Because of his leadership position, he had a security detail — the two Capitol Police officers who, despite their wounds, exchanged fire with the gunman and were credited with stopping him. The presence of those officers, Crystal Griner and David Bailey, likely saved lives.

The assailant, who died in an area hospital, was identified as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, from Belleville, Illinois. He was a volunteer last year for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and, according to social media posts, resented Republican political policies. He also had an arrest record that included charges for drunken driving, resisting a police officer, domestic battery and damaging property. He was armed with a semi-automatic rifle and pistol.

Scalise is the ninth serving member of Congress to be shot. The previous shooting severely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in 2011. The last victim of assassination was Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-N.Y.), who was shot to death after winning the California presidential primary in 1968.

Did today’s poisonous political atmosphere lead to Wednesday’s violence? Hodgkinson can’t speak to his motive, but others are trying to do so.

“The rhetoric has been outrageous — the finger-pointing, just the tone and the angst and the anger directed at Donald Trump, his supporters,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), said. “Really, then, you know, some people react to things like that.”

Sanders said he was “sickened by this despicable act” and denounced any use of violence. Indeed, it isn’t normal or acceptable for political passions to explode into attempted murder. When it happens, it’s not confined to one extreme fringe or the other — it’s just extreme. Violence for the sake of politics is an attack on democracy.

President Donald Trump took the high road Wednesday, saying: “We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country.”

Americans should remember that we settle differences through elections and other democratic processes — not with violence.

We wish for a full and speedy recovery for those injured, and a nation where anyone can play ball in a public park, or participate in politics, without fear of being shot.