Notes on a political shooting

Police what you say for lies, for slander, for stupidity, for simple vileness. Don’t be Sean Hannity; don’t be Kathy Griffin.

The first thing to say about the attempted massacre of congressional Republicans on a baseball field in suburban Virginia is that the motivations of the shooter were unusual. By which I mean that, based on what we know, James Hodgkinson had surprisingly normal political beliefs. He hated Donald Trump, he liked Bernie Sanders, he wanted higher taxes on the wealthy. He was not a Communist or a paranoid knight on a shadowy crusade, but an ordinary Midwestern Democrat with far more rage but the same frustrations as many decent liberals.

Where modern assassinations are concerned, such normal partisan motivations are more unusual than you might think. John F. Kennedy was hated passionately by many Republicans in Dallas, but Lee Harvey Oswald’s beliefs were Marxist, not right-wing. Nationalist movements, not partisanship, inspired Sirhan Sirhan and the Puerto Ricans who almost killed Harry Truman. George Wallace was shot by a man trying to make “a statement of my manhood for the world to see.” One of Gerald Ford’s two would-be assassins was a member of the Manson cult, the other a sympathizer with the Symbionese Liberation Army. John Hinckley famously shot Ronald Reagan to impress Jodie Foster.

And most recently — if less famously, because the media spent a long time assuming that he was tea party-inspired — Jared Lee Loughner shot Gabby Giffords because he was a lunatic obsessed with (among other things) the government’s control of grammar, and she had failed to answer his town hall question: “What is government if words have no meaning?”

So Hodgkinson’s seeming normalcy, his angry but relatively mainstream Democratic views, might be a warning sign for the future of our politics. The turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s generated segregationist terrorism on the right and a revolutionary…

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