This past Wednesday, we got the most disappointing answer yet to a question that I have been asking myself for most of my journalistic career.
It happened as we watched the House's dueling speeches and censure of unrepentant Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) for having tweeted an anime video of himself as a cartoonish superhero fatally stabbing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and swinging two swords at President Joe Biden.
I found myself thinking back to an uplifting moment in that same chamber four years earlier. It occurred as a result of a real congressional assassination attempt. But it left us with a very different perception of how House Republican leaders see their responsibility as coinciding with old-fashioned American patriotism.
Flash back to 10:55 a.m. Sept. 28, 2017: As aides open the massive House chamber door, more than 400 representatives jump to their feet and begin clapping and cheering as one. A solidly built man enters, walking slowly but surely, using two canes for support, now that he has learned to walk again.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), then House majority whip, is returning to work. More than three months earlier, he was wounded by a Trump-hating assassin who sprayed bullets at Republicans at a baseball field as they practiced for their annual game with the Democrats. At the microphone, Scalise says that Congress is famous for its political battles, "but ultimately we come together."
Fast forward to this past week. What we saw was the reality of Congress 2021. Especially on the Republican side, where Representative Gosar did everything his party's now minority whip seemed to abhor on that 2017 day.
I have covered the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the 1972 paralyzing near-assassination of George Wallace, two failed assassinations of Gerald Ford, a frightening faux assassination when a man pointed a blank-shooting starter's pistol at Ronald Reagan in 1975, and the 1981 assassination attempt that almost killed Reagan and severely wounded my friend and his press secretary Jim Brady.
Were they triggered by something said or done by someone they admire? Could Paul Gosar's heinous conduct twist the easily manipulated mind of a future assassin? Is there a Republican House leader who cares enough to do something to prevent it?
It wasn't House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who vowed to rain retribution down on key Democrats if Republicans gain control of the House. And all but two Republicans voted against censuring Gosar.
The GOP House whip who gave Gosar a pass on Wednesday got his thanks when Gosar retweeted the violent video anime in which he kills the House liberal he most loves to hate, and swings swords aimed at killing America's president.