Our View: The path to unity is walked one step at a time

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Rep. Steve Scalise, the majority whip, was one of the individuals shot. He is in stable condition.
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Those who watched the pregame portion of the Washington Nationals’ Oct. 6 playoff opener saw Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
It was a moving moment. Months after being shot by James T. Hodgkinson and lying near death on the field at Alexandria’s Eugene Simpson Stadium Park, and following numerous medical setbacks, Scalise returned to Congress on Sept. 28 and to the baseball diamond a week later. His return was the embodiment of the late Tom Petty’s anthem, “I won’t back down.”

Here’s what else was symbolic: Scalise’s laborious walk onto the field, with the aid of two arm braces. Though he’s come a long way, the Congressman still has far to go before he’s fully well.

As a society, we also have far to go before we’re fully well. In fact, after yet another horrific massacre by a madman with automatic weapons, this time in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, societal wellness in America seems like a distant, unattainable dream.

Yes, we need laws that prohibit the types of weapons used in mass shootings, and laws that make it easier to involuntarily commit the seriously mentally ill to hospitals.
But we need so much more.

How do we mend our culture of violence? It’s everywhere, from desensitizing video games and movies to misogynistic music. We cheer each week as our warriors in pads smash each other all over football fields and hockey rinks. Violence sells.

How do we restore faith in our institutions? From pedophilia scandals within the Catholic Church to police abuses against minorities, each incident – even if isolated — chips away at the moral authority of the institution. How could our flag, the very symbol of our unity as Americans, have become divisive?

How do we breach the political divide between red and blue, between elites and those less educated and less privileged? Our current president is both symptom and cause of the baseness in our politics.

In inner cities and across swaths of the heartland, there’s little economic mobility – and plenty of anger. Political hatred fueled the Simpson shooting. Racial hatred motivated the Charlottesville killer.

How, how, how? It’s vastly easier to point out problems than fix them.

Perhaps Rep. Scalise was instructive in this regard too. Each step that he took onto the field at Nats’ Park was a small act of will. He went slowly, didn’t waver and reached his destination.

Our shared destination as Americans, and as Alexandrians, has to be unity. We need to keep taking small, determined steps toward rebuilding confidence in institutions that unite us. Unity isn’t organic to human nature – it has to be pursued.

Locally, events like Del Ray’s Art on the Avenue, held last Saturday for the twenty-second time, bring us together, as do faith-based communities. Alexandria’s many charitable events and volunteer organizations provide opportunities for gathering and helping.
Confidence in our local government would be boosted by meaningful ethics oversight to prevent conflict of interest situations.

Let’s emulate the determination of Scalise, the bravery of Alexandria police officers Kevin Jobe, Nicole Battaglia and Alexander Jensen and the community building of Del Ray’s Pat Miller, who was honored last Saturday. Let’s consciously try to build up rather than tear – or back – down.

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