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AMEND CORNER: It’s up to us to demand civil behavior

As if we didn’t have enough violence in this country today, somebody had to take a shot at politicians preparing to play baseball.

It’s unforgivable that a Democratic nobody seriously wounded a Republican congressman, but it’s especially bad that he did it during practice for the annual Republicans vs. Democrats baseball game. Not only is baseball the original America’s game, it’s one of the few activities on which the Rs and Ds agree to actually do something together, so why shoot it up?

Republicans, at least some of them, blamed the shooting on Democratic anti-Trump rhetoric. Some, like Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said some of the blame belongs to Barack Obama. The former president failed to bring Americans together, according to Rep. King, who apparently has forgotten that Congressional Republicans announced from the very beginning that they weren’t going to allow President Obama to bring them together.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, also blamed Democrats for the shooting, although he later backed down, saying that “it was a mistake” to blame only the Democrats for the shooting and calling on all sides “to tone down the rhetoric.”

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-South Carolina, went further, saying in an interview that President Trump shares part of the blame. He cited a campaign appearance when candidate Trump appeared to encourage someone in the audience to punch a protester in the face. “That’s bizarre. We ought to call it as such,” Sanford said.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who was dismayed to find out that the shooter had worked on his campaign for the presidency, took to the floor to denounce the shooting and the shooter as “despicable” and said he was “sickened” by the shooting. He called for an end to violence and said non-violent action was the only road to making real change in America.

Other Democrats, forgetting that some of their number had blamed Republicans for other recent shootings, announced that this one was carried out by an unstable man and Democrats were not to blame. Some blamed the lack of gun legislation in Virginia, where the shooting occurred, because the absence of such legislation allowed the shooter to openly carry a rifle into the area where the Republicans were practicing. This assertion was quickly denounced by the NRA, which blamed “the left” for creating a climate encouraging violence.

Apparently, though, some members of Congress are giving some thought to the harm they might be doing to the nation. Rep. Sanford, for example, seemed to indicate that senators and representatives of both parties are realizing that something has to change in our political life when he told an interviewer that there was “some heavy soul-searching going on right now” by the members of Congress.

Well, maybe Rep. Sanford is right about the soul-searching among Congressmen. I hope so, because it would be a good thing if Democrats and Republicans were to step back and evaluate their own behavior toward each other and what it is doing to our politics. That would be a good thing for the nation.

I’m not hopeful, though. There are some deep divisions about what the good of the country really is. There are wide differences on issues such as health care, taxation, social welfare and the military. Moreover, the battles over those issues have been long and rancorous, so the members of the House and Senate will have to forget a lot of what they have said and done to each other during those battles to have any chance of successfully changing the poisonous climate within Congress.

Even if Congress does change its tone, the roots of the problem are much deeper than what happens under the Capitol dome. There are opinion makers out there who demonize political leaders and others to attract an audience. There are bigots who would marginalize and discriminate against others on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion, and there are those who would demonize individuals with different sexual preferences. And there are people on all sides of our politics who will lie if necessary to attack the other side, and there are others who will accept and circulate the lies without checking to see if they are true.

I believe we can overcome the poisonous nature of our public debate, but only if there are enough Americans of every political stripe — from left-wing to right-wing and everything in between — who abhor the nasty tone of politics we have seen lately and are willing to stand up and demand civil behavior and respect for other points of view in our public life.

If that doesn’t happen, we’ll continue to see the kind of rhetoric that we are seeing now, and that won’t be good for our nation or for its citizens.

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