But after the last at bat of a night of rare unity in Washington, and a game the Democrats won 11-2 in seven innings, some were wondering just how long the political truce will last. If history, and the current state of polarized, angry politics, is any guide it won’t be long, even with the best of hopes and intentions.
With a special counsel narrowing in on the President, a contentious Obamacare repeal bill making its way through the Senate and a divisive budget and debt ceiling showdown looming, tensions are surely just on hold.
And while rattled lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill instinctively drew together after the shooting, sitting together at the game, that doesn’t mean their constituents and attack dogs in warring partisan media establishments will heed a moment of Beltway togetherness.
“We are dealing with a deeply entrenched, deeply ingrained system that has been perpetuated for a long time, so is it easy to change? No. But can we, of course we can, we just have to have the will to do it,” Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick told CNN’s Phil Mattingly.
Plenty of members of Congress, shocked at what happened Wednesday morning at baseball practice in suburban Alexandria
, Virginia, and deeply concerned about their own safety are now talking about the need to conduct political debate in a more civil way.
Many connected the shooting rampage to the fearsome tone of current political rhetoric, since the shooter, James Hodgkinson
, from Illinois, left anti-Trump screeds on his social media page.
“The poisonous atmosphere in Washington and the polarization in our country causes warped, twisted minds to do terrible things,” Maine Sen. Susan Collins told CNN on Thursday.
Arizona Republican Rep. Martha McSally said that the rhetoric in the country had reached such levels that civil debate was all but impossible.
“Things are enflamed to such a hot point right now,” she said, bemoaning the “rhetoric, the hatred, the vitriol, the inability to have a discussion about sincerely held beliefs and debate them but not be disagreeable with each other.”
But is there any real reason to believe anything will change?
After all, when normal politics resumes it will do so at one of the most contentious Washington moments in years. A new president, barely in office five months, could soon be under investigation
by a special counsel Robert Mueller for obstruction of justice — and is furious about it.
Should the investigation produce an impeachment drama, the nation will embark on the most traumatic national political process possible considering whether to remove an elected President before his time.
However that ends, it will leave scars for years to come.
Many people in the political world had quietly worried that violence was a lamentably possible extension of a presidential campaign in which Trump baited angry crowds and liberals ridiculed and insulted him.
In a sign of how the political dialogue has deteriorated, it’s now normal for the President of the United States to spread obvious falsehoods, to brand the media the “enemy of the American people” and for his opponents to openly call him a liar.
Now, it seems, even something as quintessentially American as playing baseball might require members of Congress to take along a phalanx of armed guards.
Some members are now talking about arming themselves
at public events.
Far from easing, the bile had been rising in recent months, challenging the barriers of political taste and convention.
For instance, there was a controversy in which comedian Kathy Griffin posed with photos
of a severed head mask in the likeness of President Trump.
And even as he offered a videotaped message of unity at Thursday night’s baseball game, Trump’s campaign sent out a fundraising email targeting Democrats.
“After their BILLION-DOLLAR election loss, all Democrats have done is OBSTRUCT President Trump and maniacally scream the word ‘RUSSIA’ until they’re blue in the face,” the email read.
“They’ve sparked protests in the streets, refused to approve White House nominees, destroyed our health care system, and used the media to spew vicious rhetoric against the President.”
Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi earlier pushed back hard at suggestions by some conservatives that left wing rhetoric was to blame for Wednesday’s attack.
“I think that the comments made by my Republican colleagues are outrageous, beneath the dignity of the job that they hold, beneath the dignity of the respect that we would like Congress to command,” she said. Later however, Pelosi appeared in more conciliatory mood in a joint interview with House Speaker Paul Ryan
Even the business of regular politics is laced with contention.
Senators may soon vote on a Republican health care bill that would repeal Obamacare, that opponents decry as ripping away coverage from the old, the sick and the poor. Emotions will run riot on both sides of the aisle.
Before the fall, a new government funding crisis is expected which will fray tempers and will leave the good feelings of Thursday night a distant memory.
And even as most of Washington avoided new battles Thursday out of deference to Scalise and the others injured, Trump was settling old scores, in a furious reaction to the widening scope of the Russia investigation.
“Why is that Hillary Clinton’s family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?” Trump wrote on Twitter.
But while it is undeniable that Trump has added a contentious new note to Washington politics — the blame is not his alone.
In many ways he is the culmination of fury and resentment that’s been boiling for years, fueled by contentious elections, partisan meltdowns in Washington and a balkanized media sector which often serves to solidify extremes of opinion.
In one sign of the acrimony, one of the most outspoken Republican flamethrowers, Steve King of Iowa, returned to a familiar target when assigning blame for the outrage at the baseball diamond in Alexandria.
“I do want to put some of this at the feet of Barack Obama,” the Iowa congressman said in an interview with Simon Conway on WHO Iowa radio.
“He contributed mightily to dividing us. He focused on our differences rather than our things that unify us. And this is some of the fruits of that labor.”
King was an exception. But the idea that a single violent incident, like Wednesday’s, could change the political climate has been expressed after tragedies before — and been shown to be empty hope.
Things didn’t change after Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
was shot in 2011 at a political event in Tucson — though many people expressed hopes that they would.
Back then, Obama delivered a heart searing eulogy to a little girl, Christina-Taylor Green, who was just discovering a fascination with politics, but was killed at the Giffords event,
hoping she was dancing in “rain puddles in heaven.”
“I want us to live up to her expectations,” Obama said. “I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.”
Everyone knows how that turned out.
But despite that, there are still some optimists.
Mark Kelly, Giffords’ husband, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday that acrid political rhetoric had consequences but change was not impossible.
“I think it can happen if people are really motivated to make it happen. it happened after what happened in Tucson for a little bit,” Kelly said.