This morning a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, looked more like a scene out of a place like Kabul than a classic and comfortable picture of Americana. The shootings of members of the Congressional Republican baseball team, practicing in the early morning hours for a charity game against their Democratic counterparts in that august body, brought to us all the true dangers that our divisive political dialogue can produce if we are not careful. Passionate and divided views are expressed on both sides, and tempers often flare in ways that are less than productive for democracy. Such divided sentiments sometimes seem to threaten our very foundations, and cause many to wonder where this country is headed. Is it headed for the kind of dysfunction that we see in other places in this turbulent world? I say we are not. Let me explain.
It was in what happened both during and after that truly horrible scene played itself out that the true spirit of America shines forth. The stories of the rapid response and courage both from security present to protect the member who had a leadership position, and the Alexandria police, who put themsleves in harm’s way as they took down the shooter before even more carnage happened should not be taken lightly. Such professional and effective reactions are things we often take for granted, but should not. Even the response of passersby who called 911, the rush to help after the shooter was neutralized, the offer of comfort in the form of baked goods by a neighbor and the outpouring of empathy for the victims, despite their political persuasion, all lead me to believe that the United States of America is still the land of brave brothers and sisters who are Americans first. It seems that Americans still know how to disagree without being disagreeable. This is not something that happens in other parts of our world. It is precious and we should protect and nurture it.
I was in Afghanistan for several years, and watched the decline in security as elements of terrorism groups like the Taliban reasserted their presence after relative peace following the 9/11 involvement of the International Community. I watched as Afghans reacted to increasing attacks on peaceful populations going about their business. I listened to my Afghan colleagues, and the people around whom I lived, and do not remember hearing them coalesce around a feeling of nationhood that would unite rather than divide. Instead, I heard an increase in the kind of partisan-focused blame that has now begun to creep into our own national dialogues. I rarely, if ever, heard people talking about how they needed to stick together and defeat what was clearly a common enemy. Tribe and sect took precedence over genuine patriotism.
So, and forgive my naivete, but I look at Alexandria and the Capitol District today, hearing stories of heroes and humanity, and am encouraged. Statements of support from both sides of the aisle and pictures of things like baseball fields and caring neighbors make me think we are still the kind of America that we thought we were, and that we can still work together on the places where we sometimes fall short.
In the end, we are all Americans. We can disagree vehemently, and we can argue vociferously, but in the end, we are still the United States. Our elected representatives can still play baseball, that truly American game, to help disadvantage kids, because, yes, at the time of this writing, the game for charity between the Republicans and Democrats is still on, and Americans will come together to cheer on the teams. Both of them…and therein lies the difference.