It’s a common expression of our time: politics is a blood sport. It’s something that’s been repeated so often in recent times from podiums and in news articles that many have come to take it as gospel truth. In fact, if you Google the expression, the query yields more than 235,000 results.
It’s a figure of speech designed to express just how impassioned and rancorous the political process can become. Unfortunately, after last Wednesday’s shooting in Alexandria, which seriously injured Rep. Steve Scalise along with four others, that expression has taken on a new and more awful meaning.
It’s time for all of us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “What have we become as a nation?” It would be easy to shrug this off as the work of one deranged and unhinged assailant from Illinois. It would likewise be easy to let the lessons of Alexandria quickly fade into memory and get back to the work of vilifying and demonizing our opponents.
But this time, we mustn’t allow that to happen.
For the last two years—and arguably the last two decades—we have been on a collision course with last week's violence. It is no secret that we are living through the most poisonous political atmosphere most, if not all of us, can remember.
Perhaps it started with Whitewater or the impeachment of President Clinton. Perhaps it was compounded by the contentious election of George W. Bush. Perhaps the lid was ripped off after 9/11 and two prolonged and costly wars in the Middle East. Perhaps the complete breakdown of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans during the Obama years is to blame.
Perhaps it was President Trump’s “counterpunch” tweeting and Hillary Clinton’s “bag of deplorables” that drove a final wedge between our two major political parties. Or perhaps we’ve simply grown so accustomed to the political incivility of our day that we can no longer remember a kinder, more genteel time.
It is fair to ask whether or not it’s possible to win a national election without “getting in the mud,” and all of us need to acknowledge the role we’ve played in creating this climate.
Each time we have engaged in “gotcha politics,” and ignored the common courtesies we would extend to a perfect stranger on the street; each time we have ignored the reasoning of a political foe without acknowledging a point well made; each time we have vilified and demonized an individual because they hold a point of view contrary to our own—we have, drop by drop, poured gasoline on the fire.
And now, after one shooter lies dead and four of his victims recover from gunshot wounds, we are presented with a bittersweet opportunity to change course as a nation.
Just hours after the shooting, as he addressed a full chamber of Congress, House Speaker Ryan eloquently stated his call to unity: “We're all imperfect. But we do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber. For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi went on to echo Speaker Ryan’s sentiment by informing her colleagues she prayed for the safety of them all. She even went so far as to say, "I pray for Donald Trump, that his presidency will be successful, that his family will be safe."
These are tones and courtesies so foreign to our modern political discourse that they seemingly belong to a time long ago in a world of black and white. Yet here we are, jolted by an act so heinous and shocking that we are forced to return to the manners our parents taught us as children.
If ever there was an event that could awaken the nation from the political status quo of infighting and vilification, the shootings in Virginia must and should be that moment. I join House Minority Leader Pelosi in praying for the safety of all of our political leaders and for President Trump and his family. And while terribly painful, I also pray that we will one day look back on last week’s events as the day our nation remembered civility and mutual respect are not signs of weakness, but rather a reflection of the underlying strength of our republic.
If it’s true that politics is a blood sport, perhaps we can all agree that we are all part of one American family and as another saying goes, blood is thicker than water. As the minority leader aptly concluded her remarks before a standing ovation of Congress, "Because it is about family. We are called for a purpose in this body [Congress]. It's a great thing."
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He has been named by CNN and Fox News as “the leader of the Hispanic Evangelical movement” and TIME Magazine nominated him among the 100 most influential leaders in America.