In one of his memorable comic sketches, George Carlin compares baseball to football. Football is warlike, but baseball is played on a grassy field, it has pastoral images, it is peaceful, and it is about getting home.
This sketch, along with Ken Burns’ documentary series on the history of baseball as America’s pastime, has been rolling through my head as I watched the horrific violence that took place in Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning. What have we come to as a nation?
A member of the House of Representatives, Steve Scalise, a leader in that body, is in critical condition fighting for his life in a hospital after a deranged gunman decided to use what was probably a semi-automatic weapon to take shots at people playing baseball in preparation for a charity game between Republicans and Democrats. Of course any shooting is terrible, and it shouldn’t be more terrible just because people were playing baseball and getting ready for a bipartisan charity game, but somehow it is. It suggests that we can’t get away — even on the baseball field — from our violence and our deeply divisive partisan differences.
As a political scientist, I am enough of a realist to know that our political differences are not going away anytime soon, but I am also enough of an idealist to wish that we would not continue to defile ourselves with senseless violence, over-the-top rhetoric, and vicious partisanship. Yes, it seems likely that the gunman was mentally ill so the incident is an aberration, but I don’t think that we can just make that assertion and move on as if it explains everything. Somehow, we have to make sure that we keep saying to ourselves that life is precious, that differences should never lead to this kind of violence and that we want to be a nation of laws, a nation of reasoned discourse and a nation of caring.
Perhaps it is the sense of caring that has gotten lost — we must ask what it means to care about one another. Certainly that means that we condemn this kind of violence, but what does it mean beyond that? How can we make sure that everybody gets home?
Right now I am praying that Steve Scalise and the others injured in this shooting get home safely. But can we go beyond that. Can we think about what it means for all Americans to get home safely? Can we recognize that a nation has to make sure that its policies are about caring for one another? That a nation is about recognizing the needs and concerns of our diverse communities? And a nation is about making more efforts to bridge those gaps?
As we all come up to bat in the weeks and months to come, let’s remember that the goal is to get people home. In football, we protect the quarterback, but we need more than just more protection. We need, as in baseball, to move the runner along. Yes, we can do this with a hit, but a walk, a sacrifice fly, and even getting hit by a pitch will often be enough. Let’s think more about the work we must do and the sacrifices we can make to get everyone home safely.