There were many thoughtful statements of sympathy following the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, and four others during a baseball practice in a Virginia park last week. Perhaps none was more thoughtful than that of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot and nearly killed at a constituent event in 2011 (six people died in that attack). "It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or a Republican, nor if you're a senator or a representative, nor a staffer or a sworn officer," Giffords wrote. "This shooting is an attack on all who serve and on all who participate in our democracy."
That didn't stop many from jumping online and filtering the tragedy through their own ideological lenses — whether it was noting that the shooter had been a volunteer with Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign, or trying to make ironic comparisons between Scalise's hospital stay and his support for President Donald Trump's attempts to roll back the Affordable Care Act, or Scalise's pro-gun position and the alleged shooter. All this was being batted around even as Scalise was undergoing surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where he remained in critical condition at the end of last week.
Local blogger Adrastos (www.first-draft.com) summed up the scrum well. "Not everything is a political issue to be instantly batted about by social media trolls and keyboard warriors," he wrote. "That's too abstract for my taste, it shows a fatal lack of empathy; a quality we need now more than ever."
We agree. The more divided the country becomes on political and social issues, the more empathy we need when tragedy strikes. We saw that after Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee failures, when those who tried to make political hay out of the help Louisiana needed were quickly outdone by those who cared and offered assistance. We saw it again after the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida a year ago, when people all over the U.S. were shocked and outraged at the deaths of dozens of mostly LGBT people. And we should see it in the wake of this tragedy as well.
Among the reasons Scalise was elected House Majority Whip are his people skills. Many who vehemently disagree with his positions on the issues still like Scalise as a man. One of his closest friends in Washington, in fact, is fellow U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, whose positions often are diametrically opposite Scalise's. The two men are not only good friends but also good neighbors — their districts abut one another, and the two work very well together on issues important to southeast Louisiana.
We join millions across our nation in wishing Congressman Scalise a complete and speedy recovery. We likewise join the growing chorus of Americans who hope this tragedy will bind people from all parts of the political spectrum closer together so that we all may follow the example of Reps. Scalise and Richmond by seeking common ground — and common purpose. That, truly, is the American Way.