When the news broke that a disturbed man with a gun opened fire in Northern Virginia on Republican members of Congress who were practicing for a charity baseball game, I found myself remembering Robert F. Kennedy’s words on the night Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.
And I found myself thinking that there are some lessons that we Americans must learn again and again.
Although the details still are sketchy, it appears that the shooter in Virginia bore a partisan and ideological animus toward President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. It’s hard to know with certainty, but it’s possible he viewed this atrocity as a sick political statement.
He wounded four people, including U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, and two members of the Capitol Police, before dying himself when the police returned fire.
This is the second time in recent years that someone has opened fire on a member of Congress for political reasons.
In 2011, another angry man with a gun opened fire on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona. Giffords survived, but six other people, including a small child and a federal judge, did not.
The shooter in that case was a devotee of far-right conspiracy theories.
This is what we have come to in America.
There is so much anger loose in this land. It is not just seen in these two shootings, but also in the so-called comedians who make jokes about killing political figures. Or the activists, left and right, who depict opposition leaders as something other than American. Or at the rallies where we threaten to jail people because we have political differences with them.
That anger is a cancer.
And cancer kills.
When Robert Kennedy spoke in Indianapolis on the night Martin Luther King died, he spoke to a similarly divided, angry nation. King’s murder was just the latest in a string of assassinations – Medgar Evers, JFK, Malcolm X – and riots had ripped our cities apart.
RFK said we Americans had a choice to make. We could continue to walk the path of rage, or we could go another way. He said we had to try to understand each other, even if we ended up not agreeing.
“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country,” Kennedy said.
He asked us to say a prayer for the King family, but he also asked us to pray for our country so that we could find the wisdom and compassion we desperately needed then.
And so desperately need now.
He closed with words that echo through the years, as truth always does.
“And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people,” RFK said, just two months before he himself was murdered.
On this tragic day, I ask my fellow Americans – left, right and center – to remember that we are just that.
I also ask that we rededicate ourselves to that ancient task, the one that has bedeviled humanity from its beginnings, and strive to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
Most important, I ask that we say a prayer for our country and our people.
All of them.
All of us.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.