We’re all playing the same game here

Baseball is something many congressmen have been able to agree upon for more than 100 years. The Congressional Baseball Game for Charity began in 1909 as a fun side project organized by U.S. Rep. John Tener, R-Pa., a former professional player who later served as governor of his home state and president of the National League.

Now, more than in a long time, Americans need rituals such as this to remind us that despite our politics, we are all in this country together as brothers and sisters, that we have more in common than in opposition, and that at the end of the day we can still enjoy good things together. The Congressional Baseball Game for Charity deserves to be much better known than it is. Few Americans even knew about it — until Wednesday.

That morning, in a park in one of Washington’s Virginia suburbs, Republican congressmen were practicing for Thursday’s game when a 66-year-old Illinois man named James Hodgkinson opened fire on them. Armed with a rifle, a pistol and plenty of ammunition, Hodgkinson managed to wound five people — including Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House majority whip and No. 3 leader, as well as the GOP second baseman — before members of Scalise’s security detail shot him down. He died of his wounds later that day in a hospital. Scalise and a lobbyist remain hospitalized. Two Capitol Police officers and a House GOP aide were also hurt but released from hospitals.

Investigators say Hodgkinson bought the weapons legally and apparently acted alone, without ties to radical groups. He had left his home state months ago and was living out of his white cargo van in Alexandria, Virginia, showering at a local YMCA. Several people said he asked onlookers at the baseball practice whether the players were Republicans or Democrats before he started shooting. He was a passionate progressive who adored Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and despised President Donald Trump and the Republicans. Sanders, rightly, denounced Hodgkinson’s actions in the strongest terms.

Obviously, this is horrible. The political rage and despair that apparently drove this man to kill has also reached a boiling point elsewhere in the U.S. — and on more than one side of the political spectrum. In cities across the country, we’re reading about clashes between right-wing Trump supporters suggesting “Second Amendment solutions” and white supremacy, and left-wing counter-protesters wearing masks, sporting anarchist punk clothing, damaging property and threatening violence.

Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney of the Utica area, whose district includes part of the Adirondacks, says she received a death threat by email within hours of the congressional baseball practice shooting. The subject line was, “One down 216 to go….” The message, in its entirety, read, “Did you NOT expect this? When you take away ordinary peoples very lives to pay off the wealthiest among us, your own lives are forfeit. Certainly, your souls and morality were lost long before. Good riddance.”

This is scary, this idea that we could be in for another civil war, but rather than fear it, we must work to prevent it. And we can.

Looking on the bright side, the baseball shooting may actually provide something of a circuit breaker that wakes us up to how overcharged our politics have become, before the smoldering becomes a raging fire. Our elected officials realize they need to set a better example in a nation where people have increasingly huddled into ideological tribal camps. Members of Congress started toning down their adversarial rhetoric and publicly appreciating their colleagues in the other party. House members gave a standing ovation Thursday as they passed a resolution stating that “violence has no place” in society.

And attendance at Thursday’s Congressional Baseball Game for Charity was the best ever.

That’s good, but they will only keep it up as long as all of us Americans make it clear we really want unity and peace. We know we’re not all going to agree on health insurance plans, military budgets, abortion or taxes, but we should be able to agree that we don’t want to see each other killed.

We all have to live with each other. That’s become this newspaper’s editorial mantra lately, and we’ll repeat it as long as it’s needed.

Let’s all play ball together, compete with our best effort, and at the end shake hands and say, “Good game.” Whoever wins that day’s game, there will be another soon, but sportsmanship and fairness endure. Without them, things fall apart. It’s up to each of us to uphold a civil society.