America in 2017 is a place where a mass shooting at a congressional baseball practice is a surprise, but not a shock.
Just like the rest of what happened Wednesday.
The thoughts and prayers echo statements that came after other shootings. President Donald Trump delivered a sober and unifying message from the White House. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave warm, embracing speeches on the floor.
But pretty much everyone expects that Trump will tweet something inflammatory before long. And that Ryan and Pelosi will be back attacking each other by next week, if not by the end of this week. And that any big show of changing up the congressional baseball game to be East vs. West instead of Republicans vs. Democrats will have about the same lasting effect than when senators went as bipartisan pairs to the State of the Union the week after Gabby Giffords was shot.
Meanwhile, the question now looms of how the mainstream left responds to the act of violence coming from within its own ranks, even as Bernie Sanders, whose presidential campaign the shooter supported online and on the trail, issued a statement saying he is “sickened by this despicable act” and pleading for non-violence.
In Washington, it was yet another day on edge about what happens next, with the distinctive swirl of factors around the Trump White House, like a son who quickly tweeted about the connection between the shooting and the Kathy Griffin photo and a Central Park production of “Julius Caesar” that he’s been raging about, and the president has White House counselor Kellyanne Conway promoting unconfirmed information about the shooter before the White House made a statement.
America in 2017 is also a place where people decry the shooting of House Whip Steve Scalise, two staffers and two Capitol police officer, and swear this time will be different. But they’ve sworn that before — and then, after a politically acceptable period of public self-recrimination and calls for a change, starting churning the anger again, harder. People tweet about murdering and raping political opponents. They show up to rallies with guns.
They are not discouraged.
“I can only hope that Democrats do tone down the rhetoric,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) said in a local radio interview, which didn’t exactly match Ryan declaring to his colleagues in the House, “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
"This could be the first political rhetorical terrorist attack," Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said on CNN.
Giffords was shot in the head at a constituent event in her district all of six years ago.
“Don’t politicize it!” shouted the people who didn’t want to talk about gun control or silencer regulations, though as many gun control advocates point out, insisting that gun control can’t be discussed in the wake of a gun incident is a politicization itself.
“Terrorism” has also become a politicized word, with debates over whether the racially motivated shooting at the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston in 2015 was a terrorist attack, whether the San Bernardino shooter with hazy ISIS ties was a terrorist attack, whether the white man who shot two Indian immigrants in Kansas in February was a terrorist.
“We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because above all, they love our country,” said the president on Wednesday—though this is the same president who made encouraging violence against protestors a standard of his campaign rallies last year.
Partisans spend hours bulging at each other on social media and in person, raging about each other’s idiocy and treachery. If you don’t agree, you’re not American, or you’re not human. This is the same country where a North Carolina Republican Party office was firebombed. This is the same city where a man started shooting up a pizzeria in Northwest Washington six months ago because online conspiracy mongers had convinced him that John Podesta was part of a child sex ring being run out of the basement.
Waiting for the shooter to be identified, people held their breaths and prepared their talking points to slot him into. If he had an Arabic name. If he had ties to white supremacist groups. If he had political statements on his Facebook page.
James Hodgkinson is dead, but now his life and police record and social media accounts can be attached to whatever narratives people want.
“We can all agree that we are blessed to be Americans, that our children deserve to grow up in a nation of safety and peace, and that we are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good,” Trump said Wednesday.
“We do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber,” said Ryan after Trump spoke.
“We are not one caucus or the other in this House today, but we speak for each other,” said Pelosi after Ryan spoke.
Then there was the reaction in the less august settings.
"A Democrat campaign volunteer who deeply believed the president and his advisors were traitors tried to murder Republican congressmen,” said Michael Caputo, a Republican operative fired from Trump’s campaign last year, in a radio interview he had someone promoting on his behalf. “For nine months, Democratic Party leaders have lied, regularly calling me and my friends traitors, so forgive me if I’m not more tender with their karma in Alexandria."