What Congressmen Learned from a Mass Shooting
The attempted assassination of Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) left congressmen and women on both sides of the aisle stunned. Reporters wrote of a strange silence on Capitol Hill as the most powerful people in the country, some of whom were actually at the baseball practice where the shooting occurred, seemed to contemplate their mortality.
Politics looks very different from the inside. So much of what we see on network television is manufactured emotion and vitriol: calculated messaging meant to make a representative look a certain way or attract a certain vote. Our representatives actually spend very small amounts of time on big ticket items they argue about in public. Instead, they work their committee appointments and bureaucratic connections to get programs for their district, grant favors for constituents, or rise in the ranks of their party. The media side of politics that dominates the political experience of a layperson, for your average congressman, is just a performance to put the icing on the cake of the image they want to shape.
The politicians we see on TV are not who they really are. Lets use congressman Jason Chaffetz as an example. Before the election, Chaffetz was the leading man behind the House Oversight investigation of the Clinton email fiasco. He and every other Republican on that committee knew how far they would get with the proceedings, but as committee chairman Chaffetz did his party duty. He requested new investigations when Trump was down, gave damning interviews, and used his position of notoriety to fuel the ever-burning email fire that was the 2016 Republican platform.
In reality, Chaffetz isn't the deep red die hard he was until November 8th because he can't afford to be. As a prospective candidate for Governor or Utah in 2020 and eventually the Presidency, Chaffetz smartly decided to lower his profile by giving up his seat at the end of this term, realizing that the very persona that brought him to notoriety wouldn't play after the election. Chaffetz, like every other perennial congressman, calculates his appearance for maximal effect. When Chaffetz's interests were no longer served by his media personality, he dropped it quickly and without remorse.
What stunned congress people so much after the shooting, was just how dangerous the political rhetoric could get. One must remember that congress people hear "scandalous" political rhetoric every day. They work out together in the morning and call each other hacks in the afternoon; to them it's just part of the job, scheduled like committee hearings or votes on a bill. What they do not realize is that Americans on the other side of the TV believe them when they say that America is really going to be destroyed, that Trump will be the end, or that the deep state is planning a coup to bring down the Presidency. The faux entrenchment of hate that our representatives show us in the media creates real divisions within the public. Every once in a while the dog whistles attract more than just votes, and the shooting on Wednesday is an example.
The constant drone of political rhetoric that has taken over our airways and social circles in the past two years has had and will continue to have serious effects, and the escalation has come from people entirely desensitized to it's true power. The shooting of Steve Scalise and 3 other people last week taught congressmen and women that their words really matter. The line of decency which is crossed so easily is there for a reason, and when we begin to speak in terms of the apocalypse, some people really believe it.