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Ballots, Not Bullets

This week's shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and three others at an Alexandria, Virginia, baseball field where dozens of Republican members of Congress and staff were attending a practice for a congressional benefit game shocked the nation. Even more horrifying was the nature of the assault. This was a targeted, ideologically motivated assassination attempt on Republican members of Congress by a deranged fanatic who planned his mission over days and weeks.

It is hard not to conclude that the current political divide is at least partly to blame. The bitter irony for Scalise (who at this writing remains in critical condition) was that had he not been there, the shooting would have turned into a killing field. Because he is a member of the House leadership, Scalise was accompanied by a small Capitol Police security detail. Two of these officers were also shot when they engaged and helped bring down the assailant, who later died of his injuries. Without the presence of these armed officers from the Capitol Police, the shooter could have mowed down everyone present.

How have we come to this? Has American politics become so toxic that some decide now to settle their differences with bullets? This is a problem that affects the left every bit as much as it does the right. The shooter in this incident was an outspoken progressive who posted regularly on social media his hatred for Republicans. He volunteered in Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign last year, prompting the senator from Vermont to issue a statement from the Senate floor condemning what he called a "despicable act."

The shooter -- I am purposely not using his name in order not to give this attempted assassin the notoriety he no doubt hoped for -- was part of a disturbing number of people on the left who refuse to accept the results of the most recent presidential election. As readers of my column know, I am no Donald Trump fan (though I would not by any stretch have cheered Hillary Clinton's election), but the proper response to a disappointing election is to work harder the next time for a result more to your liking. And sometimes, no matter how hard you work, the other side wins. That's democracy.

I'm uncomfortable with those who took to the streets to form a "resistance" to the 2016 election. Yes, it's their constitutional right, but I don't recall a time in the past 50 years when so many people asserted that an entire election was somehow illegitimate. Only a relatively small group of crazies tried to do the same thing with the 2008 election, by claiming that Barack Obama was not a natural-born citizen and therefore not entitled to be president. (Unfortunately, our current president was one of those who made that outrageous claim.) Most of us who opposed Obama's policies focused on just that, not asserting that the election was illegitimate.

I remain as unhappy with President Trump's behavior as ever. But he is the president of the United States. The Russians attempted to influence the election, but it was American citizens who determined the outcome, not some foreign country. If we find out from the special counsel's investigation that President Trump has violated his oath of office to faithfully uphold the Constitution and execute the laws, we have legal remedies. These disputes will be resolved by the rule of law, not by the rule of the mob or by someone attempting to take matters into his or her own hands. That way leads to tyranny or worse.

The sooner all Americans -- Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives -- quit treating politics like warfare the healthier our politics will be. There will always be winners and losers, but in our system, losers live to go to the ballot box another day.