Tuesday marked the 240th anniversary of the day the Continental Congress adopted a resolution defining the symbol for what binds us as nation — the flag of the United States.
Unfortunately, Tuesday now may also be remembered for what threatens to tear us apart.
As Republican members of Congress held an early-morning practice in an Alexandria, Virginia neighborhood in preparation for the 80th annual congressional charity baseball game, a man from Illinois, reportedly armed with an SKS rifle and a 9 mm pistol, opened fire in a savage and cowardly attack that apparently was politically motivated.
The assault left five people injured, including Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, who was listed in critical condition at MedStar Washington Hospital Center after undergoing surgery. According to witnesses, Scalise, who as majority whip is the third-ranking member among House Republicans, was playing second base when he was struck in the hip area. As the attacker continued to fire from behind the third base dugout, Scalise was able to drag himself into the outfield while a member of his security detail, despite being wounded, exchanged fire with the assailant.
Matt Mika, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods and a former congressional staff member, also was listed in critical condition following surgery. Also injured were a congressional staffer who was shot in the leg and released from the hospital and two Capitol Police officers, including one, identified as Crystal Griner, who was listed in good condition after being wounded in the ankle. The other, David Bailey, was treated for his injury and released.
Despite the vulnerability of the many gathered in an open playing field, the only person killed was the gunman himself, identified as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois. A former volunteer for the presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Hodgkinson left behind a Facebook page that made no secret about his beliefs including his antipathy for President Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Washington. In one of his posted tirades on March 22, he wrote, “Trump had destroyed our democracy. It’s time to destroy Trump & Co.”
But in the end the only destruction was his own. Republicans and Democrats in Congress responded in unifying condemnation of the attack and the attacker himself.
“I am sickened by this despicable act,” said Sanders from the Senate floor. “Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society, and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said he was practicing with the Democrats on a different field when word came of the attack. “Our team moved into our dugout and huddled up in a prayer for them,” he said.
“Today’s attack on members of Congress was cowardly and inexcusable, and threats and statements that appeared afterwards on social media are inflammatory and counterproductive,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. “We are better than this.”
Let’s remind ourselves of that whether we’re flying the flag — or flying off at the handle. We are better than this.