• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Bullets And Baseball

Few and far between are the moments that bring this country together. More and more, solidarity has shifted from a relic to a memory, something known to history but not to us. A sense of community and togetherness are exceptions, things we’re slow to embrace, and quick to let go. And never is it in joy that we’re brought together in brotherly or sisterly affection. Reliably, it’s when something tragic occurs. Only tragedy, and nothing short of it, can stir within us the empathy and kinship that gauges the strength of a nation.

Such a tragedy, or a near tragedy, occurred this week. A lone gunman, James T. Hodgkinson, went to a local baseball field in the Virginia suburbs and opened fire. Four people were shot, in a wanton act of violence. Among those wounded, left lying on the field in critical but not mortal peril, were a Republican congressional staff member, a Tyson food lobbyist, a member of the Capitol police force, and Representative Steve Scalise, a Republican congressman from Louisiana. The four were gathered in the early Washington morn, just outside the city limits, to squeeze in some baseball practice. It was a final day’s dress rehearsal before the annual congressional baseball game, which pits Democrats against Republicans at the Washington Nationals’ stadium. So seldom is it one sees these elected enemies on the left and right competing as good-sports. Only on the diamond will they deign to do it, and the game is a good bit of fun.

The attack in itself was jarring, as all mass shootings are, but this one was particularly frightful. The sheer spontaneity of it and the congressman’s vulnerability were most alarming. He and his pals were fenced in at a field whose base path and sod are more familiar to children at play and dogs on leashes. Like any other creature fenced in, confined to its space, the men were easy targets. Knowing this, James T. Hodgkinson discharged a flurry of fifty rounds at the men in this wide-open space. Fortunately, his plans were better than his aim. Although they were sitting ducks, he was only able to critically wound Representative Scalise, who was felled by a bullet to the hip. The other three were scathed, but not fatally so.

If not for the intrepid security detail present on the scene, this might not have been the case and a body-count might’ve blossomed. With alacrity, security guards were able to locate the spot whence the bullets came. They captured the grisly sixty-six-year-old Hodgkinson in their sights, and volleyed a return. Hodgkinson was struck, and his wound proved less merciful than the one he’d given Scalise. A small justice was paid in his death, and we have the brave security guards to thank for that.

The mind of a killer is one that can’t be fully understood. The pathologist can exhume it in death, or the psychologist can analyze it in life, but in either case, a murderer’s motivations can never be known. The case of James T. Hodgkinson will further prove this point. In discussions with previous acquaintances, of whom there appear to be few, investigators have painted a picture of an unassuming man. At the time of his attack, he was unemployed, having once worked as a home inspector in Illinois. The only notable exception to his benign history was a prior arrest for domestic battery and aggravated discharge of a firearm. With all the cliché of a hillbilly dad flailing about with a shotgun on the front porch, he threatened his daughter’s boyfriend for intruding upon his property and his little girl. The charge was later dismissed.

From that time until this, no other incident arose in which he relapsed and acted out in violent pique. It seems as though he was able to stifle his baser instincts, which, needing an outlet, he re-directed to online discussions and Facebook groups. It’s in those chatrooms and message boards that barbarity matures. This is where his unbridled diatribes danced freely. He subscribed to leftist groups on the social-network site with names like “The Road to Hell is Paved with Republicans” and “Terminate the Republican Party”. Both ominous names, it gives one chills to think about which “group” presaged his actions. In posts, Hodgkinson called upon President Trump to resign (a demand any number of Democrats have made and continue to make) and called him “the biggest a**hole we have ever had in the oval office”. Again, nothing new there. Most portentously of all, however, was his post in which he said that “it’s time to destroy Trump & Co”.

The trouble is in deciding whether Hodgkinson was merely caught in the political talk of the day—a brutally vituperative vernacular, distinct, I think, from pre-Trumpian days—or if he was afflicted by something more extreme. Many so-called “moderate” people have been just as swept away in this wave of senseless apoplexy. Finding Trump not just distasteful but unpalatable, many Leftists and Democrats have taken to using language similar to Hodgkinson’s. The thoughts he expressed, I’ve heard countless times before, and months after Scalise heals and Hodgkinson is forgotten, I’ll surely hear again. The difference, of course, is that he acted out his insane impulsivity, but the soil from which it sprang is common ground trodden by other like-minded people.

Only in this age can Hodgkinson’s language fall under the penumbra of normal political discourse. We’ve entered a new nadir. His posts and groups represent the most thoughtlessly divisive and moronic parts of our politics. It’s an uncivil, unintelligent, loathsome little corner, but it’s one that’s beginning to sprawl and encroach upon more and more space. Those inhabiting it speak in a common tongue known to the ignorant, the arrogant, and the troglodyte. It’s a language that’s arisen from a defeated Babel, where mouths flap grievance and gripe without a structured thought in their heads.

Hodgkinson is just another example of this thoughtlessness pushed too far. He is the tide of tribalism that that is washing over the nation. He’s a man who acted at the fringe, but voiced on websites and in conversations opinions of the mainstream.

We can hope, that in his death, Hodgkinson might open our eyes. Within him we find the worst of us: a hardened, heartless man whose political vitriol led him to unspeakable carnage. We see a man so swept up in deranged pique that he was willing to take the lives of others and sacrifice his own. The lesson found in him, if one is to be had, might be this. We need to elevate our discourse. We need to sublimate our ill-will. We need to be a country grounded in rational compassion and above all at this time, solidarity.

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