Just like everybody else, we’re still trying to assimilate the news of Wednesday’s attempted massacre of the GOP’s Congressional baseball team during an early morning practice in Alexandria, Virginia. But we do know this much: unless this country has gone completely nuts, it shouldn’t make any difference to any of us whether Gabby Giffords or Steve Scalise is the one in the hospital.
In case you’ve forgotten, Giffords, who was then a Democratic Congresswoman from Arizona, survived a bullet to the brain during a politically motivated 2011 shooting spree that left six other people dead and 13 more injured. Today, Scalise—once Giffords’s colleague on the GOP side of the aisle, at least if “colleague” still has any validity as a descriptive term, and currently the House Majority Whip—is apparently expected to survive taking a bullet to the hip during a politically motivated shooting spree that wounded five other people, including two Capitol police officers, and featured only one fatality: the gunman.
Any democracy that involves killing someone you disagree with is not a democracy anymore.
Call us old-fashioned for believing that U.S. congressional representatives getting targeted in politically motivated shooting sprees ought to be nightmare stuff for every American. Regardless of ideology, they’re “our” representatives. Even if he didn’t know it, the man who tried to kill Giffords was metaphorically shooting at every citizen in her district, whether or not they’d voted for her. The man who tried to kill Scalise was doing the same. No matter what you think of either of these two politicians as a politician, that’s what “government of the people, by the people, for the people” means.
The assumption that the country hasn’t gone completely nuts—we mean crooning loco, the way it did in 1968 or maybe even 1861—is looking like an awfully shaky proposition right now. At one level, viewing political violence through a partisan prism is nothing new. Whether it’s true or just a very durable urban legend, the story that Texas schoolchildren reared on Kennedy hatred cheered the news of JFK’s assassination has never struck us as preposterous. But since then, we’ve all gotten a lot more inured to the concept of vicious cheers competing with tears.
Unsurprisingly, Scalise and another seriously injured victim had barely made it to the ICU before concern about their fate took a back seat to both sides of our Great Divide jockeying over which one could best turn the event to its ideological advantage. Liberals seized the chance to snark about Republican NRA zealots perhaps rethinking their opposition to gun control. Right-wingers got busy demonizing left-wingers even more than usual. And everybody’s social-media feeds filled up with the usual tasteless, often brutally gleeful vitriol.
Few people even bothered to dredge up the quaint bromide about “politicizing a tragedy,” which in any case has always been an inverse way of doing exactly that. The point is to make the other camp’s reaction look unseemly, proving they’re bad human beings without a leg to stand on. What if just shooting them all would make our lives easier? By now, we’d give a lot to make our lives easier, wouldn’t we? Doesn’t that sound great?
We hope Steve Scalise lives until he’s 100 years old and this event is just an anecdote by then.
Here at Playboy, we’ve never been shy about our own political biases. You 21st-century readers who keep saying “STFU about politics and just give us the sexy girls” are clearly unfamiliar with this magazine’s proudly progressive views since the day Hef founded it. We’ll happily go back to arguing with Steve Scalise’s view of life and/or America the minute he returns to the House floor in good health. We hope he lives until he’s 100 years old and this event is just an anecdote by then.
We don’t think bringing up gun control in the wake of any mass shooting is either partisan or nonsensical. We just know that to do so is pointless posturing on the Democrats’ part for one simple reason: the GOP won’t change its tune just because their House Majority Whip is in the ICU right now. If Newtown and Sandy Hook didn’t convince them that this country’s gun dementia needs taming, nothing will. So we’ve accepted that, for the foreseeable future, any nut who needs firepower to express himself politically or otherwise won’t be denied access to automatic weapons.
For leftists, the disturbing novelty—one we libtards now have to deal with—was that the alleged gunman claimed membership in our club. Let’s admit it: everybody expected the first act of political violence in the Trump era would come from a crazed Trump supporter. Even when Trump hasn’t endorsed MAGA thuggishness, he hasn’t rushed to condemn it. Besides, we all know crazy right-wingers are a lot more likely to own guns. As a rule, crazy left-wingers just own laptops and Subarus. And cats.
So learning that James T. Hodgkinson was a white Bernie Sanders fan unhinged by Trump’s presidency changed the whole equation all over again. (Liberals wouldn’t be human if we hadn’t felt a moment’s relief that the shooter wasn’t Muslim.) We can protest that tarnishing the whole left-wing agenda because of one deranged man’s murderous behavior is unfair, and it is. Sanders himself was rightly aghast once it came out that Hodgkinson had apparently been a volunteer in his campaign.
Even so, since last November, plenty of liberals—though few if any Democratic office-holders, which is a contrast with their Republican counterparts worth keeping in mind—have tolerated or even indulged in rhetoric about Trump and his evil GOP henchmen extreme enough that it might help a deranged man think of killing as a plausible solution. Anyone who complained about, oh, Sarah Palin conceivably encouraging the attempted murder of Gabby Giffords by posting a map of Democratic districts marked with bullseyes—which she did, although no persuasive connection between the map and the shooter has ever been established—has to wonder just how blame-free our side is this time around. The capital-L Left isn’t guilty of this crime by a long shot, but it would be hard to say we’re totally untainted all the same.