Yesterday, multiple people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, were shot during a congressional baseball practice in Virginia. Reports show that prior to this terrible event, the gunman specifically asked whether the practice was for Republican or Democrat players.

This is an extremely disturbing example of just how bad the political atmosphere in America has become, but it’s certainly not the only example. The flames of hate are fanned every single day on social media and in the news, and there’s no denying that the toxicity of this rhetoric feeds into the unspeakable actions of those such as yesterday’s shooter, and countless others over the years.

As Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s (R-Wis.) communications director, I personally monitor his social media accounts every day. That includes Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. On average, the Congressman receives dozens of comments per day, sometimes hundreds.

I read every single post and tweet, and I often wish that this disheartening task didn’t fall to me because each day, I’m faced with message s like these:

 

  

 

A profession in politics is not for the faint of heart. You need to have a thick skin and a healthy sense of humor to maintain a positive and optimistic perspective. I, like many communications professionals, am often on the receiving end of similar hate-filled messages. But there must be a line somewhere that separates legitimate criticism and excessive hate mongering.

At what point should politicians say enough is enough? What has to happen before our political leaders can stand together and denounce extreme and dangerous rhetoric? 

Unfortunately, it usually takes a terrible act of violence, such has yesterday’s shooting.

It was uplifting to see Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) come together before the full House of Representatives and share expressions of unity while condemning the cowardly actions of a disturbed and deadly individual.

But their message of optimism and strength is one that shouldn’t be reserved for days of tragedy. Admonishment of hate should resonate from the halls of Congress to the far-reaching corners of this country every single day.

In recent months, we’ve seen too many words and examples of violence against our political leaders promoted in the national news. Whether it’s Snoop Dogg’s video depicting the shooting of a clown resembling President Trump, Kathy Griffin’s photo illustrating a decapitated President Trump, or the most recent Shakespearean play featuring a Trump-like Julius Caesar being violently murdered, these visual representations of violence are not only offensive, but they lower the standard of what is acceptable in the public arena. They also further deteriorate the national political climate and promote threatening societal norms.

The degradation of political civility is not exclusive to supporters or opponents of any one party. I’m confident that any Democratic member of Congress would be able to produce appalling examples of social rhetoric similar to those I’ve highlighted from Mr. Sensenbrenner’s account. This is a wide-ranging symptom of our polarized and explosive political climate that must be addressed for the safety of our people and the continued success of this country.

And while Americans have the right to say what they want under the First Amendment – no matter how vulgar, profane, or inflammatory, as a society, we don’t have to condone it.

If we truly hope to stop these horrific acts of violence and begin to heal our deep political divides, we all need to denounce hate speech and the sharing of false or misleading information, particularly online.

It’s not easy to find a silver lining in tragedy, but if there’s one to garner from yesterday’s events in Virginia it would be this: an opportunity to hit the reset button on a disconcerting political climate and bring some light and optimism back to America.

Tieman is Rep. James Sensenbrenner’s (R-Wis.) communications director.

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