It didn’t take long Wednesday, after a bloody domestic terror attack on lawmakers, aides and police security guards gathered for a morning of baseball — baseball, for crying out loud — for the political recriminations to begin. That’s pretty routine now.
As of this writing (Friday afternoon), Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., was in improved but still critical condition, and we insist on believing most Americans were praying for his recovery.
Evidence is overwhelming that the attacker, whose name has already gotten more publicity than such vermin ever deserve, was a left-wing fanatic driven by intense hatred of all things Republican, and President Donald Trump in particular.
Many on the right are blaming the anti-Trump rhetoric of Democrats and liberals for the shootings. Likewise many on the left, whatever they’re calling themselves this month, say the whole ratcheting up of ideological vitriol in general can be laid mostly at the feet of Trump himself, and his alt-right constituency.
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They’re both right, and they’re both dead wrong. It kind of reminds me — though not in degree, thank God — of the “debate” of 15-plus years ago over whether the worst mass murder in American history, on Sept. 11, 2001, was the “fault” of former President Bill Clinton or President George W. Bush. Me, I tend to be kind of simpleminded about stuff like that. I blame terrorism on terrorists.
This week many, at least for the moment, rose above pettiness. The president paid tribute to the victims. House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (both of whom I dislike intensely, but that’s beside the point here) joined on the House floor to say that “we are united in our shock, united in our anguish,” (Ryan) and that “we are not one caucus or the other in this House today” (Pelosi). The Republicans and Democrats played their baseball game as scheduled, at Nationals Park, and it must have been an incredibly moving experience to be there.
And then there’s Newton Leroy Gingrich.
Gingrich appeared on Fox to share his judgment that the ballpark shootings were the result of “increasing hostility on the left,” and chastised Democrats for their “vulgarities.”
Digest that for a moment, assuming anybody has that strong a digestive tract. Newt Gingrich, serial adulterer, Nobel-caliber hypocrite, Trump supporter, lecturing anybody on … wait for it now … vulgarity. Or hostility. Or, really, pretty much anything.
Gingrich’s noxious brand of political flotsam invariably bobs to the surface at the most inappropriate occasions for political exploitation, much the same way Al Sharpton’s does at scenes of racial strife, and with roughly the same public benefit. He certainly didn’t invent remorseless political opportunism, but he’s taken it to a level that has required the digging of new pits in Hell to accommodate it.
This guy now lecturing us on rhetorical “hostility” is the same one who wrote a book comparing the Obama administration to Hitler and Stalin.
The one who politicized a South Carolina woman drowning her two little boys in a lake.
The one who jumped at the school massacre at Columbine to say liberals “refuse to accept” responsibility for it. (He made no case for any such culpability, needless to say — just said the left should own up to the bloodletting. Vintage Gingrich.)
And how could he possibly resist the murder of Seth Rich as a chance for some classically dark and ominous Gingrichian innuendo about the “corruption” of the DNC? (Newt, remember, also fanned the flames of the “Vince Foster was murdered” conspiracy hallucinations of the Clinton presidency.)
That’s the shortest of short lists, but this is a column, not a book.
There are many from whom we might learn valuable lessons on social and political discourse. Ahead of Newt Gingrich on that list I would put most of the human race, a goodly portion of the animal kingdom and a few flowering plants.
Shame, as a form of moral reckoning, has never been in overabundance in politics. But a scruple vacuum as absolute as Gingrich’s isn’t so much shameless as soulless.
I once described Gingrich as a political predator, but that’s not really accurate. It’s also demeaning to predators — they go after live prey that can sometimes fight back or at least escape. He’s more a political carrion-eater, showing up after the fact to gorge on the leavings.
Nobody can realistically expect Americans, in this troubled era, to join hands and voices in a chorus of “Kumbaya.” Politics can be and sometimes should be harsh, even in times of crisis. Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, one of the most positive and eloquent political voices of the mass media age, once said in an interview with this newspaper that there are times when politics needs to be “a punch in the nose.”
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s horror, some Americans were pointing fingers and others were trying simultaneously (and paradoxically) to turn down the heat and turn up the warmth.
Newt Gingrich, as always, was circling in for the feed.
Dusty Nix, firstname.lastname@example.org; 706-571-8528.