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Joe Henderson: Unity? It’s hard to find in aftermath of Washington shootings

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I woke this morning to a strange and troubling email. It was unsigned, and from an address I don’t recognize, but the message came through clearly.

Under the heading of “James T. Hodgkinson” — the shooter Wednesday in Washington — it read, in all caps: “I THINK JAMES IS A HERO. THE REPUBLICANS HATE POOR PEOPLE.”

Yikes.

Despite an eloquent speech by House Speaker Paul Ryan and calls for calm and unity, there is a lot of blame going around following the attack by Hodgkinson that left five people wounded, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and two Capitol Police officers.

First though, let’s be clear: Hodgkinson is not a hero. He was a twisted, deranged, would-be murderer. Anyone who suggests otherwise is wrong.

But we could have done without the incendiary garbage from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said on Fox News that the shooting was “part of a pattern. You’ve had an increasing intensity of hostility on the left.”

Breitbart.com shoveled more coal on the fire. Columnist James Delingpole, in a piece that appeared under the headline “Alexandria shootings show the left’s toxic hatred has gone too far …” took the opportunity to turn a tragedy into a full-throated rejection of anyone with a differing viewpoint.

“I don’t expect the liberal-left to change anytime soon. They’re angry, they’re frustrated and — thanks to the malign influence of everything from left-wing college professors to the poisonous liberal media — they’re on a downward spiral of cry-bully destruction which I believe can only get worse,” he wrote.

There is much, much more if you care to scroll through the internet. Just type a few search words into Google, but you may need a shower later. Much of it was pure crap, and it came from both sides.

In blaming the left, many conservatives conveniently forget that the images of a hanged Barack Obama and the racial slurs directed toward him speak to a culture where anything was fair game.

Liberals say that justifies images like Kathy Griffin holding up an image of President Trump’s severed head.

They are wrong.

People on the right, though, also forget about Sarah Palin’s infamous “crosshairs” map from 2011 that targeted Democratic members of Congress. One of them was Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. She nearly died after an assassination attempt.

Palin said it was just a way to whip up support for the upcoming election, that it was never, ever intended to spark actual violence. Griffin said her photo was just pushing the envelope of political commentary.

Both sides say they’re right in whatever they do or say because the other side is evil.

When historians judge this era, they might conclude it was the biggest down-the-middle split in America since the Civil War. It is a period of fear, hatred, distrust, dishonesty, and the unbending belief that anyone who thinks differently is the enemy. The only victory that seems to satisfy is one that leaves the opposition in shambles.

James T. Hodgkinson is just the latest symptom of the polarizing disease that is poisoning this nation and putting all our futures at risk.

He is not a hero. The Capitol Police officers who put themselves at risk during the rampage to save lives are heroes. People willing to reach out to the other side are heroes and work for the common good. We need all of them we can get.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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