Sen. Ryan Aument

Sen. Ryan Aument

Hate has a way of infiltrating and spreading. Like a disease, it can be contagious to susceptible individuals, especially when masked by benign disguises. Sometimes there are clear signs of its presence while other times it lies dormant, hidden from detection. But before many of us know it, hate can spread like wildfire and we are all left wondering, “How?”

We saw hate in action again last weekend. With mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, these attacks have become more common and widespread than anyone could have imagined just a generation ago. With each violent event, the nation searches for answers for how something so evil could happen yet again.

To be clear, all mass shootings are acts of hate. Whether linked to racism, anti-Semitism, political ideologies, or even when the motive is unknown, mass shootings show a complete disregard for human life.

Make no mistake, there exists in the United States a sickness. Hatred and contempt for one another have the potential to tear the fabric of this great country apart from within.

So now, perhaps more than ever before, political leaders need to lead, and must do so with modesty, humility, prudence and grace. We must speak with moral clarity and come together to collectively condemn all hatred within our society. The words we use matter and are of consequence.

Last weekend, hatred of immigrants led to the deaths of at least 22 people in El Paso. We cannot ignore that white nationalism and racism are alive in this country and, in many cases, thriving in the dark corners of the internet. We must condemn it with a collective voice when it rears its ugly head and do all we can to eliminate this evil mindset.

More than 1,000 miles from El Paso, another mass shooting took the lives of innocent people in Dayton. Unlike the El Paso shooting, there is not yet a known motive for the actions of the Dayton assailant. Yet it appears this shooter did not share the same beliefs as the El Paso perpetrator.

This does not detract from the significance of the El Paso motive, but instead showcases the complexities facing leaders in how to address it.

Nevertheless, we can all agree hate was present in both of these vile attacks.

The fact that these two shootings took place over the same weekend should be a wake-up call to us all. These assaults on our fellow Americans were done for reasons that span the spectrum and will not be addressed by one proposal from one particular political party.

To be effective, we need all leaders and their respective ideas at the table to have the difficult but civil discussion on what can prevent these attacks in the future. We have to be willing to listen to one another and not argue past each other.

To my friends on the right, this means listening to the concerns that many have with respect to the easy access to guns by those who wish to do themselves and others harm. To my friends on the left, this means recognizing the concerns many have with respect to the disregard for life, the breakdown of the family, the deterioration of our culture, and the appropriate treatment for those with a mental health diagnosis.

Certainly, this is not the time to exclude certain people from contributing to the discussion due to a disagreement on policy. Doing so will only marginalize and serve to sow more division in our already fractured society.

Corrosive rhetoric from those in power seeks only to divide us for personal political gain and is not productive in resolving any of the challenges that confront us as a society.

In the aftermath of the tragic events last weekend, I sadly read many comments from our state and national political leaders criticizing men and women of faith for sharing that they were thinking of and praying for their fellow Americans.

Comments like this indicate a lack of respect and contempt for people of faith. Personally, I think people who dismiss these good intentions have too little confidence in the power of prayer and too much confidence in government. I have far more faith in the Almighty than I do in government alone to help resolve some of these important cultural issues.

If anything, these attacks should cause us to pause and lead us all to do some self-reflection. There is a great divide in this country that seems to only get worse. One has to look no further than social media posts and the comments under online articles to understand the disdain we show for opposing opinions on anything from sports to property taxes, with many comments devolving into name-calling and insults. Arguments have become the norm, while listening and seeking understanding are the exception.

The same is true in politics. It’s past time we bring everyone and every idea to the table to engage in a civil, respectful discussion on how increased safety can be accomplished — whether through “red flag” laws, enhanced background checks, mental health treatment, or helping parents and loved ones understand warning signs of violence.

This debate will be difficult but necessary. Our success depends on our ability to listen, seek understanding, and work together. Far more unites us than divides us. And the stakes have never been higher.

In closing, I challenge everyone to be mindful of your words and the way you treat those around you, and to let Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s words guide us now, just as they did in the aftermath of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination:

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another.”

State Sen. Ryan Aument, a Republican who resides in Mount Joy, represents the 36th Senate District; he is secretary of the Senate Republican Caucus. Twitter: @SenatorAument.