Back To Anger And Acrimony In American Politics After Brief Respite

Jay Mala

For a brief while, it seemed like American democracy at its best. The annual Congressional baseball game was held last Thursday night and the Democrats defeated the Republicans 11-2. 

In true American spirit, and in a show of political unity, camaraderie and compassion, the winning team handed over the trophy to the losers. 

The trophy will now be kept in the office room of Steve Scalise, the Republican chief whip who suffered serious gunshot wounds the previous day and is still lying in a critical condition in hospital.

It was a traditional baseball game that could have been cancelled after the murderous attack by a fanatical Democratic supporter on Republican Congressmen and their aides while they were practicing in a Washington suburb early on Wednesday morning.  Apart from Steve Scalise, the third-most-senior member of the US House of Representatives, four others were injured in the shooting. 

But, as President Donald Trump said, "The game must go on.  By playing tonight, we are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence, or assaults on our democracy".

Both parties agreed with this sentiment and so did everybody else.  A record crowd of nearly 23,000 turned up to see the match.  Charity collections poured in, crossing one million dollars, double what had been received in last year’s match.

For a brief while it seemed as if the political temperature in America had cooled down.  Many kept their fingers crossed in the hope that the shooting incident and the friendly baseball game would signal an end to the bitter rivalry between Democrats and Republicans. 

But such hopes seem to be evaporating quickly. Instead of a new spirit of national reconciliation, it is reverting back to politics as usual -  the same vitriolic recriminations, hate-filled rhetoric and fake news allegations that have been the main preoccupation of politicians, press and partisan public ever since the presidential elections in November last year.

In fact, since he was elected President, Donald Trump has been constantly assailed by a barrage of criticism, condemnation and obstruction for every statement and every policy initiative. 

Trump himself has a tendency to create problems for him by saying things which his rivals find outrageous or politically incorrect.  Even his closest advisors and supporters often find it difficult to defend or clarify his viewpoint on contentious issues.  Perhaps the most infuriating of his traits is his habit of using the online Twitter platform as a vehicle to communicate his thoughts.

His justification for tweeting so frequently is that he wants his message to go directly to the American people because the mainstream media invariably distorts his words and deliberately portrays him in the worst light possible. 

There is truth in this because it is obviously to neutral observers that the largest circulated newspapers and cable TV networks in the country have been carrying out a relentless and vicious anti-Trump campaign even to the extent of seriously damaging their own credibility.

On their part, Democratic leaders have been continually competing with each other to level accusations against the President and even explore all avenues to initiate impeachment proceedings.  Just last week as many as 200 Congressmen filed a petition in a federal court charging the billionaire President of financially helping Trump Corporation, his real estate company. 

The main plank on which the Democrats are gunning for Trump is the alleged collusion of the Trump team members with the Russian government.  For the media, this has been the burning story of the day for the past two months running.   Two separate high level investigations are currently going into the alleged Russian interference in US elections and an offshoot of that has been the charge that Trump has been trying to sabotage the investigations and is guilty of obstruction of justice.   

Although no evidence has till now been found to back all the allegations, the virulent campaign  has created an environment where Democratic lawmakers routinely stoop to foul language in public events.  

This has led to such a climate of anger and hatred among common citizens that American society itself is dangerously divided on partisan lines.  Just recently, a comedian posted gruesome pictures of a decapitated president and a theater company staged a Shakespeare classic adapted to show the assassination of a politician who bears a strong resemblance to Donald Trump. 

Reflecting the same kind of thinking,  a newspaper carried a headline after the baseball ground shooting that wounded Steve Scalise:  “One Down, 216 To Go”.   The number 216 was a reference to the votes required to get any Bill passed in the Houe of Representatives, where the Republicans currently have a majority.  The obvious implication is that if more Republican members are shot, the Democrats will be able to block any legislation on the floor of the House.

Realizing that many red lines are being crossed and there is a desperate needs to return to civility in the nation's politics, some opinion makers and political leaders have appealed for sanity, especially after the fanatical gunman deliberately targeted Republican Congressmen at the baseball ground on Wednesday. 

Senator Chuck Schumer, the leader of the minority Democrats, said: "The level of nastiness, vitriol, and hate that has seeped into our politics must be excised. We can disagree, vehemently at times, here in Congress, and folks out in the country can do too. But not at the cost of dividing America and fuelling violence on the streets".

Whether such appeals fall on deaf ears or lead to a toning down of the rhetoric remains to be seen.

Jun 22, 2017

Jay Mala [email protected]

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