The Belleville-News Democrat, the local paper from the community in which James T. Hodgkinson lived, provides a perspective that I think we need to attend to in the midst of this highly publicized act of violence towards members of Congress and their staff with a gun.
The paper quotes a neighbor of Hodgkinson:
The paper quotes a neighbor of Hodgkinson:
Aaron Meurer is a neighbor of the Hodgkinsons and said he noticed in the last two months James had been gone. The alleged shooter’s wife Suzanne told him her husband was travelling.
“She said that he went on a trip. She wasn’t real specific,” said Meurer, unclear whether the couple had split up recently.”He’s been gone for the last two months, so I haven’t seen him around too often.”
Meurer said he occasionally cut his neighbor’s grass to help out. He didn’t know the neighbors well, just socialized from the lawn, and said his neighbor would fire guns on his rural property, commonplace in the open area outside of Belleville.
“I knew he was a Democrat, a pretty hardcore one. I know he wasn’t happy when Trump got elected but he seemed like a nice enough guy,” recalled Meurer, who said the couple lived across the street for about six years.
“He seemed like he was sem-retired, he was home a lot. He used to garden a couple of years ago,”said Meurer, who runs his own trimming and removal service. “I didn’t really talk to him too much. He was a Democrat and I was a Republican so we didn’t have too much to talk about.”
Meurer said during the campaign Hodgkinson had a lone Bernie Sanders sign near the road in his front yard. He thought that Hodgkinson had raised foster kids who had grown up. He also thought there were grandchildren who visited occasionally.
“We were neighbors but we didn’t talk every day. When we saw them in the yard we’d say 'hi' and go on our way,” said Meurer. “He seemed like a normal guy, a regular guy.”
Meurer suggested that perhaps “this Democratic rhetoric made him snap. I know he was a pretty hardcore Democrat.”What is most concerning to me right now, aside from the vast availability of high capacity firearms and this being the 154th mass shooting in 165 days, is the rhetoric we use to speak of our fellow citizens and how we identify so strongly with/against political parties. As Meurer said, “I didn’t really talk to him too much. He was a Democrat and I was a Republican so we didn’t have too much to talk about.” Have we come to a point that we can't share our humanity with someone if they don't share our political affiliation? Disagree passionately. Debate policies. And consider that your view might not be as airtight as you maybe thought. When we demonize the other, we create a space that, with the wrong ingredients, makes members of Congress become targets rather than fellow citizens with differing views.
|Art from my mother's college days hanging in my home office.|
The National Institute for Civil Discourse is leading the Revive Civility and Respect campaign and it seems we need to figure out how to engage one another about the significant issues and challenges we face--even when we disagree deeply. We can do this locally. Here in Kansas we organized Kitchen Table Conversations about what it means to be a citizens and a member of a community. A dear friend and colleague in Kentucky inspired me to do this. The point is, we need to be able to talk with neighbors, colleagues, and coworkers about the issues that matter to us. Retreating into enclaves or disconnecting all together can lead people to take detrimental and sometimes deadly action.
I'm sure I share many of Hodkinsons' frustrations with the current administration, but I know that actions like today only hurt us, not help. After listening to the Speaker of the House and Minority Leader today speak about the day's events, I would love to see a bit of a reset in how we approach our national politics. A serious challenge is that we have made everything partisan. Republican Senate leadership left a seat vacant on the Supreme Court because of partisan politics. We are on the verge of having millions lose health coverage, in part, because the oft-demonized President Obama's name is connected with the otherwise conservative healthcare model we have in the United States. We need better ways to engage, disagree, and deliberate.
People across the country and the world are watching and listening, taking in the rhetoric and being shaped by the discourse that immerses them. We can do better. We must. We need to have things to talk about with neighbors regardless of which box they marked at the last election.