June 14, 2017 may go down in the history of America as a seminal moment in the narrative of our Republic. Students may need to memorize this date for their Social Studies exams along with July 29, 1775 and June 28, 1914. Those dates are variously cited in reference to the phrase “the shot heard round the world.” The first is the opening salvo of the American Revolutionary War, and the second is the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria which triggered the outbreak of World War 1.
On June 14, 2017, shots rang out on a baseball diamond in Washington D.C. Five men were shot before the shooter was killed by police. The victims were Republican congressmen and staffers, as well as policmen who were protecting them. The shooter was a citizen who, according to the New York Times account, “was reportedly distraught over President Trump’s election.”
Sadly, there are no shortage of shootings in America in 2017. Tragically, shots are heard so often that they rarely make the news, yet alone resounding on a global level. So what is it that distinguishes the shots fired on June 14th to the extent that their sound might be “heard round the world?”
The doomsday prophets might augur that these were the first rounds squeezed off in a new civil war. The history books, they may tell us, will describe how subsequent to the contentious and acrimonious election of 2016, social discourse continued to deteriorate and the populace grew ever more fractured and irreconcilable. Politicians grew more crass and opportunistic; the people huddled in their echo chambers on social media and became further entrenched in their own recalcitrance; pundits spewed opinion that was swallowed by their audience as fact until facts slipped into murky oblivion and news became indistinguishable from the patent fakeness of “reality” tv; the fringes on the alt-right whipped up their constituents with talk of refugees, socialists, and snowflakes, while the fringes on the far left called for resistance and intersectionality and these calls evolved into cries of revolution; peaceful protest morphed into shouting contests and then fist fights; and then finally, on June 14, 2017, the first shots rang out, and from there, many shots followed.
But for the event of June 14th, 2017 to be seminal, that is only one dark and dystopian alternative. There is another possibility that is less obvious perhaps, but no less imaginable, and certainly more desirable. The shots fired on that baseball diamond may be heard round the world, or at least round the country, as the alarm that awoke us to the urgent necessity for us to abandon our enmity and mend our failing bridges.
The senseless act on June 14th may be just the thing to bring us to our senses. We have been caught up in a whirlwind of partisan vitriol that is beginning to spiral out of control. We have been manipulated by those on both sides of the aisle who traffic in chaos and conflict in order to break down the stability that has made America the most prosperous and democratic nation in history.
Are there flaws in our system? Absolutely. Are there inequities and injustices that need to be addressed, debated, and corrected? Without a doubt. But are Americans so different from each other that we cannot continue to collaborate and innovate as we have done for the past two and half centuries? Are we so ideologically divergent all of a sudden that we can no longer function with the system of checks and balances that has allowed us to evolve and embrace any and all cultures that seek peace, security, and coexistence on our shores?
America has been a great experiment in multiculturalism and equality. With any experiment ,there is trial and error. Yet the freedoms we are afforded, the opportunity we are granted, the values of justice and egalitarianism for which we as a nation stand, all of these make this country worth working for and uniting for.
If there is a resistance to be pursued, it is against those forces on both poles that are trying to tear us apart. We resist by coalescing, by finding those points of commonality that bind us and on which we can build and grow. That is our history – diverse people coming together around the notion of acceptance and cooperation – and that is our future.
There is that moment in every descent when one lands with a thud at rock bottom. There, one finally recognizes how far s/he has fallen and resolves to climb back to the surface. That moment is the darkest of days, but it will eventually be celebrated as the genesis of recovery.
June 14th, 2017 may end up being that moment. May it remind us of the universal value of human life, of the great preponderance of values and principles that we share, and of the very real danger of the language of hate and demonization. May it be remembered in the history books as ‘the shots heard round the country’ at least, and may it mark the beginning of our national reconciliation.
Marc Erlbaum, Contributor