The Partisan Shooting of Rep. Scalise Is a Relatively New Thing in the History of American Political Violence


“Try to find the humanity in the people you disagree with.”

That’s what I wrote in my Sunday print column this week. The subject, of course, was the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and three others.

In the New York Times today Ross Douthat has some thoughts on why the motivations of James Hodgkinson, the shooter, are a departure from much of the history of American political violence.

“[B]ased on what we know, James Hodgkinson had surprisingly normal political beliefs,” he writes. “He hated Donald Trump, he liked Bernie Sanders, he wanted higher taxes on the wealthy. He was not a Communist or a paranoid knight on a shadowy crusade, but an ordinary Midwestern Democrat with far more rage but the same frustrations as many decent liberals.”


Where modern assassinations are concerned, such normal partisan motivations are more unusual than you might think. John F. Kennedy was hated passionately by many Republicans in Dallas, but Lee Harvey Oswald’s beliefs were Marxist, not right-wing. Nationalist movements, not partisanship, inspired Sirhan Sirhan and the Puerto Ricans who almost killed Harry Truman. George Wallace was shot by a man trying to make “a statement of my manhood for the world to see.” One of Gerald Ford’s two would-be assassins was a member of the Manson cult, the other a sympathizer with the Symbionese Liberation Army. John Hinckley famously shot Ronald Reagan to impress Jodie Foster.

And most recently — if a little less famously, because the media spent a long time assuming that he was Tea Party-inspired — Jared Lee Loughner shot Gabby Giffords because he was a lunatic obsessed with (among other things) the government’s control of grammar, and she had failed to answer his town hall question: “What is government if words have no meaning?”

So Hodgkinson’s seeming normalcy, his angry but relatively mainstream Democratic views, might be a warning sign for the future of our politics.

This strikes me as true. In fact, I’ve been writing about this for a while.

Back in February I noted that the left was increasingly condoning violence. “They’ve decided that the American right is evil, so naturally it follows that some broken windows and bloody noses are justified,” I wrote.

It’s not just President Donald Trump who is driving the left crazy. Look at the violence perpetrated against the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Look at the violence directed at right-of-center speakers on American college campuses around the nation.

But let me be clear: The left has trended toward violence because the right is political ascendant right now. In this media atmosphere, with the internet and social media driving a brand new flavor of populist rage, the roles could easily be reversed.

Either way, Douthat is right. Hodgkinson’s actions could very well be something new in American politics.

Let’s hope it’s not.