The appalling shooting earlier this week that critically wounded my friend and colleague, Congressman Steve Scalise, and four other people, represents a dark turn in American political discourse. On Wednesday, a politically-motivated gunman opened fire on a baseball diamond as Republican members of Congress practiced for the annual Congressional Baseball Game. Without the brave actions of Capitol Police officers, the number of wounded would have been far higher and many lives might have been lost.
Make no mistake, the shooter targeted Republican legislators. His social media was littered with anti-Trump statements and postings targeting Republicans for retribution. He was a man who went to a practice field to hunt down others like animals because they disagreed with his radicalized ideology.
And know this: while this shooter’s actions are inexcusable by any and all measures, such an occurrence didn’t surprise many of us in elected office. For over a decade, we’ve seen politicians, members of the public, and certain facets of mainstream media — on both sides of the aisle — stoke the flames of divisiveness for cheap political or monetary gain.
Every day we’re inundated with stories in our leading national newspapers about the President, his cabinet, and members of Congress presenting opinions as conclusion and offering scintillating stories built on flimsy evidence and anonymous sources. Americans are now using language once reserved for the street corner lunatic or social agitator in accusing their foes of moral, ethical, or political malfeasance. It’s saddled in sanctimonious pretense, and it stirs emotions in a way that deters useful debate, drives wedges in our society, and presents every issue as "good vs. evil" rather than a serious but solvable policy debate.
Consequently, and unsurprisingly, we’ve seen violent protests, mock beheadings of our President, and other classless behavior. Whether it’s rioting at college campuses to deter speakers they disagree with or shouting down legislators in town halls, these behaviors contribute to the coarsening of our political discourse that set the stage for this week’s attack. What resulted was an attempt to not only commit mass murder, but to silence voices through terror and fear.
My question for politically active members of the public, leading members of the media, and politicians is this: Does your political speech incite needless anger and hatred?
What has always differentiated our democracy from oppressive forms of government is that we settle our political differences in the marketplace of ideas. The men and women who represent us at the local, state, and federal levels of government are elected by people and not by violence. They were chosen by voters because their ideas and beliefs most closely aligned with those of their constituencies.
In the wake of Wednesday’s shooting, I want to make it clear to my constituents that I will not be deterred from my duties in Washington. I will continue to champion the values of my district and promote our American ideals. If you disagree with me or anyone else in politics, I encourage you to engage in meaningful discourse. No problem will be solved by demonizing political opponents.
Rep. Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley, represents the 8th Congressional District in the House of Representatives. That district includes all of the High Desert.