When should members of Congress be afraid of us? When we enter the voting booth. That’s where we get our chance to govern. After the Alexandria shootings they will be afraid, but their fear won’t have much to do with the consent of the governed.
There are millions, maybe trillions of miles between Capitol Hill and America. Lawmakers like to tell us that they understand what we go through, how we live our lives, and how their actions impact us. They don’t. Their world is entirely separate from ours.
On Wednesday our worlds collided. Reality hit home.
There is a real world out here where people get hurt. Sometimes they die from violence or from not being able to pay for medical care. Using the power to govern to make people angry is a bad idea. It’s naive to blame political anger created by either party for what happened in Virginia, but it certainly seems to be on lawmakers’ minds.
Members of Congress afraid of their own fearful rhetoric
Here in the Chicago area news of mass shootings is something we live with. A Chicago Tribune article [link expired] reported that 9 people were shot in just one incident in the city last weekend.1 Most of us who live in Illinois have no personal experience with this kind of violence, but we hear about it all the time. It has an impact and makes us fearful, especially as highway shootings and gang violence spread out to suburbia.
Members of Congress talk about gun violence. It’s not something they live and breathe like people in some of our big cities. They pontificate about taxes, about getting ahead, income inequality, discrimination, fairness, the hegemony of the rich, and a host of topics that they do little about but use to arouse anger that attracts votes.
Out here in America things are different. Away from the hallowed halls of lawmaking we are helpless in the face of decisions lawmakers make on issues like health care and taxes. What they do impacts us profoundly. Sometimes their actions make us afraid.
Crisis management on Capitol Hill
When something happens to their own members of Congress discover that they are also afraid and vulnerable. After the shootings Nancy Pelosi spoke of unity and expressed fear for her safety:
But in more recent years, I have been praying not only for that, but for our safety. As I above anyone in here, and I can say that quite clearly, have been probably the target of more – I’m a political target and therefore the target of more threats than anyone, other than the President of the United States, Barack Obama.2
Yes, Barack Obama.
Speaker Paul Ryan spoke of House members being a family in remarks that were praised but seem outrageously out of context given the anger and acrimony we’ve been hearing all year. His nod to the people seemed curiously out of place, given that we seem to have so little impact on what lawmakers do:
The people’s House—united in our humanity.3
Guns, fear, and impeachment
Now members of Congress will be afraid for their security in the wake of a tragedy that history tells us was unusual. Calls for unity and togetherness would have been laughable under any other circumstance. Now they just sound hollow and sad, the reaction of politicians suddenly cognizant of what they may or may not have created with their words.
Has the violence in Virginia made members of Congress afraid of us? Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie proposed the “D.C. Personal Protection Reciprocity Act” to allow persons in Washington, D.C. to carry a gun if they have a concealed carry permit:
Although Virginia extends reciprocity to concealed carry permit holders in many states, the members of Congress and accompanying staff traveled directly from D.C., and were traveling back to D.C after the practice was over. It was D.C.’s harsh gun control laws that prevented these law-abiding citizens from exercising their right to bear arms.4
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry opined about security:
Fortenberry said “of course” there’s concern about security outside the Capitol. “A lot of people ask me that: ‘Where’s your security?’ It is assumed that there is robust security at all times around us. But that’s just not reality.”5
California Democrat Brad Sherman, who passed around an article of impeachment earlier in the week,6 used the same line we’ve heard about the Trump Russia investigation that has the entire nation angry and on edge:
This is an attack on our democracy. The best response is to be here doing our jobs,” Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday morning.7
No, it isn’t, congressman. This is the sort of thing too many Americans fear every day. If you don’t believe that, pay a visit to Chicago.
Afraid of us for the wrong reasons
For a time members of Congress will be afraid. The fear may linger. More than one lawmaker probably spent the last two nights remembering some of the things he or she said in the heat of the moment, or perhaps recalling a threatening letter or email from a constituent.
Many Americans also live in fear. We worry about safety, whether from illegal immigrants with everything to gain or gang members with nothing to lose. We fret over the things our representatives on Capitol Hill will do or won’t do to our health care, our Social Security, to education, or our ability to fly to our next business meeting. Members of Congress have the power to ruin our lives and we know it. Even after Alexandria things haven’t changed that much. Lawmakers worry about themselves. We worry about them.
1. Cherney, Eylssa. “2 injured on Riverwalk and 9 in Lawndale among 33 people shot.” Chicago Tribune. June 11, 2017. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-chicago-shootings-violence-20170610-story.html, retrieved June 16, 2017.
2. “Pelosi Floor Speech in Response to Congressional Baseball Practice Shooting.” Nancy Pelosi. June 14, 2017. http://pelosi.house.gov/news/press-releases/pelosi-floor-speech-in-response-to-congressional-baseball-practice-shooting, retrieved June 15, 2017.
3. “Speaker Ryan’s Floor Statement on the Alexandria, VA Shooting.” Speaker.gov. June 14, 2017. http://www.speaker.gov/speech/speaker-ryans-floor-statement-alexandria-va-shooting, retrieved June 15, 2017.
4. “Congressman Massie Introduces the D.C. Personal Protection Reciprocity Act.” Thomas Massie. June 15, 2017. https://massie.house.gov/newsroom/press-releases/congressman-massie-introduces-the-dc-personal-protection-reciprocity-act, retrieved June 16, 2017.
5. “Roll Call: After Shooting, Members ‘Numb’ – And Defiant.” Jeff Fortenberry. June 14, 2017. https://fortenberry.house.gov/media-center/in-the-news/roll-call-after-shooting-members-numb-and-defiant, retrieved June 16, 2017.
6. “Congress Sherman Circulates Proposed Article of Impeachment: Obstruction of Justice.” Brad Sherman. June 12, 2017. https://sherman.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congressman-sherman-circulates-proposed-article-of-impeachment-0, retrieved June 16, 2017.
7. “Roll Call: After Shooting, Members ‘Numb’ – And Defiant.” Jeff Fortenberry. June 14, 2017. Op. cit.