Civil discourse for the long term

Civil discourse for the long term

We may never truly understand all of factors that compelled James Hodgkinson to attempt political assassination.

James T. Hodgkinson, the 66-year-old Belleville man who launched a murderous attack on congressional Republicans last week, was a lot of things — businessman, activist, political assassin.

Hodgkinson must have been mentally disturbed, although he did not appear to be legally insane. Americans will learn more on that subject once federal authorities have had the time necessary to study his activities and conduct a psychiatric autopsy. But he left his wife and a nice home to travel to Washington, living out of a van and taking his showers at an Alexandria, Va., YMCA.

He was uncommunicative both at the Y and at a local bar, where he sat by himself, silently sipped his beer and gave his waitress the creeps.

Hodgkinson probably was suicidal, understanding that he was likely to die carrying out his personal jihad. At a minimum, he was prepared to be locked up for the rest of his life if he survived, a sure sign that his violent objectives trumped any concerns he had about himself, his future, and his family and friends.

A Bernie Sanders fan and campaign worker, Hodgkinson was a political obsessive and would-be assassin who has sparked a national conversation — one that probably will be short-lived and quickly forgotten — about the extent to which poisonous political rhetoric in which political rivals vilify and dehumanize each other encourages the unhinged among us to engage in violence.

People may have informed, well-argued opinions on that subject. But there is no clear indisputable answer because that would require a deeper understanding of Hodgkinson and people like him than can be can be achieved. Further complicating the question is the fact that there is no single motive that drives people to engage in political violence.

There is, however, no denying that our increasingly popular and political culture continues to descend deeper into the muck. The election of President Donald Trump last November may have driven some of his harshest critics to new lows, but they merely picked up on the anger directed at previous presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Right now, in New York City, professional actors are putting on William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" in Central Park. It includes the bloody assassination of Caesar dressed as a modern-day Donald Trump.

Just recently, comedian Kathy Griffin was shocked to discover many people were offended by her attempt at humor that featured the decapitated, bloody head of President Trump.

Griffin reluctantly apologized for her conduct. Griffin's lawyer said it was Trump who should be apologizing.

Those two examples barely scratch the surface of the bitter insults exchanged by extreme liberal and conservative political factions as well as those even farther out on the political fringes.

Neither side has clean hands when it comes to this divisive issue.

America ought to be better than this, and most of it is. But there are outliers in the culture enabled by social media and, increasingly, by traditional media who go out of their way to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

It won't stop as long as there is an audience for it because people have a right to express themselves in the most tasteless and vulgar ways possible.

Did any of that motivate Hodgkinson? Perhaps. But most of the his public activities, except for some of his Facebook rants, reflected traditional political activity, participating in a protest, working in a campaign, writing letters to the editor.

Hodgkinson was, in most respects, a pretty ordinary guy who appeared to work hard and play by the rules. But deep within him was a powder keg waiting to go off. What lit the fuse — deep personal problems, a depressed psyche, irrational political resentments, all or none of them?

It seems impossible to say. At the same time, it wouldn't hurt if those who practice and follow politics tried to remember respectful disagreement on the issues of the day is the essence of the democratic process.

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BruckJr wrote on June 19, 2017 at 1:06 pm

The irony, I suppose, is that this very newspaper runs columns written by leftist haters virtually every week.

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 19, 2017 at 1:06 pm

"leftist haters"?  Do you mean writers who are leftist politically and hate, or writers who hate leftists?

You do realize that the News Gazette is a republican leaning media outlet.  Even the News Gazette is not as rabid as your views.  Do you believe that there is a democrat conspiracy to assasinate republican political leaders?