Politics can be nasty. We all know that. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept the rising level of meanness in national, state and local politics.

Admittedly, there’s little we can do about the rhetoric at the national level, but at the state and, especially, local levels, we do have a degree of control.

Historically, politics in America has always been a blood sport. In the days of the early Republic, newspapers were aligned with a specific party and served as the attack organs against the opposition. For example, it was a Federalist newspaper that spread the rumors that Thomas Jefferson had fathered several children with one of his enslaved workers at Monticello. And Whig newspapers were merciless toward Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 campaign, comparing him to an ape because of his tall, gangly appearance we now suspect was caused by a genetic disease.

But what was missing in years past was the internet, the ability to spread a lie or a bit of disinformation to millions of people in the blink of eye. Social media has done much to divide the American people into tribes, creating a vicious “us vs. them” chasm that is widening every day.

Here in Virginia, we’ve seen the level of meanness rise exponentially since the November elections in which the Democrats took control of the General Assembly. Gun reform bills introduced by Gov. Ralph Northam and some Democratic legislators have set off alarm bells for those concerned for their Second Amendment rights. People have also looked at maps of Virginia showing a sea of red — counties that voted Republican in November — with tiny splotches of blue — counties and cities that voted Democratic and concluded that a minority of Virginians are controlling the state, forgetting that trees and open acres of land in rural counties don’t vote, people do.

Out of this sense of unease, dread and, yes, anger has arisen a movement for rural counties and towns to designate themselves as Second Amendment sanctuaries, where the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution will be respected and unconstitutional gun laws won’t be enforced. Right now, more than 100 Virginia localities have declared themselves sanctuaries.

Sadly, the rhetoric, invariably, has taken a turn for the worse in many cases, and in this social media age, that’s dangerous.

Earlier this month, Newport News police arrested Cody Lee Lahocki, 34, for making threats to shoot Gov. Northam and burn down the Executive Mansion in Richmond. According to the Daily Press newspaper, a family member called the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center after Lahocki went on a verbal rant against the governor. Lahocki, the relative told the FBI, had the means and the motive to carry out his threat. He currently is being held without bail in the Newport News City jail with a court hearing scheduled for Feb. 21.

The Bedford County Board of Supervisors first discussed the possibility of gun legislation coming up in the 2020 session of the General Assembly in late November. Supervisor John Sharp told his colleagues they needed to lobby their legislators in Richmond against such bills, saying, “Our first line of defense is to stop these laws from getting passed.” And that’s great, that’s how the democratic process works. But then he added, “In January [on Lobby Day, Jan. 21], we need to show them a crowd like they have never seen. They need to be afraid, and they should be afraid.” At the board’s December meeting when supervisors unanimously adopted the Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution, he made a blunt statement about people who support gun control laws: “I want people in Richmond and people in Northern Virginia who don’t understand us to, to feel personally uncomfortable. I want them to consider going back to where they came from.”

In Lynchburg, City Council declined to adopt a Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution earlier this month, opting instead to hold a public forum on the issue in the auditorium at E.C. Glass High School next month. Electronic communications, in the run up to and following the council meeting, rose to sufficiently high level of concern that law enforcement has taken notice, bringing to mind the arrest of the Newport News resident who made threats against the governor.

And there has been a gross overreaction on the part of many on the other side of the gun issue to the Second Amendment Sanctuary push in rural Virginia, an overreaction that has only kindled more anger. Just consider U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin’s remarks earlier this month when he wondered aloud whether the Virginia National Guard should be deployed in self-declared sanctuary counties to enforce any state laws. The National Guard? Really? All that did was toss a gallon of gasoline on an already blazing fire.

Fellow Americans — and that is what we all are … fellow Americans — we are on a dangerous path at this moment in history.

We’ve always taken our politics seriously, sometimes too seriously. But that’s part of the glory of our democratic republic: Every citizen has the right to weigh in on the important issues of the day and express his opinion to his elected representatives. But we need to temper our remarks; we need to respect each other, even those with whom we disagree; we need to tone down the rhetoric.

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