Column: We must appreciate our history, values

Mike Bishop

At a quiet morning practice in Virginia, our Republican congressional baseball team was hunted down by a deranged gunman. He fired round after round, which seemed to last for an eternity. Five people were wounded. Two officers ran into the line of fire to give us cover — and no doubt saved our lives.

“Surreal” doesn’t even cut it. I’m not sure I can ever fully describe what I saw and felt that day. I remember thinking about my family and how this would impact them. It’s something I will never forget.

I’ve had some time to reflect since then, and reached the same conclusion. The fabric of our society — made of respect and civility for one another — has eroded, and we must act with urgency to repair it.

I’ve always participated in government: as a civilian, a state legislator and now a member of Congress. I am not a newcomer to political aggression. But I’ve never seen an environment as bitter or dysfunctional as it is today.

Just in the past year, there’s been a dramatic uptick in vitriol and personal attacks in our public discourse. The way people — even complete strangers — communicate with one another has gotten downright vicious. Certain media outlets have normalized this venomous rhetoric and, for the most part, participated in it themselves.

Congressional offices across America have become the target of a widespread, well-funded political effort to disrupt us from doing the work of the people we represent. Individuals operate under a playbook, which I’ve read, that instructs them on ways to go after offices to “redirect energy away from their priorities.” Members of my staff have been personally berated, cornered in public spaces and verbally assaulted when traveling throughout the district.

Open debates of our differences have sadly devolved into one-way soundbites that fit into 140 characters or less. Social media has become an echo chamber of personal attacks that breed extremism, hatred — and eventually violence. Celebrities get free passes for promoting this violence, and doing nothing only validates it.

Since May, a total of 30 Republican members of Congress — including myself — have either been attacked or named in a death threat. I’m especially disheartened by the hate-filled comments that have followed the baseball shooting.

This isn’t the America I know.

The recent transfer of power is a product of our democracy. We have a system of government decided by We The People — and we’re better off for it. The politics are simply part of a cycle that has ebbed and flowed since our nation’s inception.

The problem is we have forgotten our past. High school students, for example, should be required to pass a citizenship test just like immigrants who wish to build lives in our country. America’s future depends on us understanding what it means to live in the Land of the Free.

I introduced a “Patriot Week Resolution” in the House to get us back to this basic but essential appreciation of our history. It encourages schools and workplaces to observe a week dedicated to our Founding Fathers, founding documents and values that make our nation great. We must take deliberate steps like this to preserve what’s good before it’s gone.

President Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” His words must serve as a wake-up call to every one of us today. God Bless America.

Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester Hills, represents Michigan’s 8th district in Congress.