From the Left: The Normalization of Political Violence

Lance Simmens

We Must Reject the Normalization of Political Violence

By Lance Simmens

So if you think that increasing talk about a potential civil war in this country is alarmist if not crazy, recent data and testimony before Congress suggests you might want to take more seriously the notion that we are in the midst of normalization of political violence. The shocking news that a person armed with a hammer broke into the home of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and used said instrument to fracture the skull of her 82 year-old husband must give pause to casually dismissing the profound acceleration of political violence that is currently gripping our democratic system of governance.

The mid-term elections shockingly featuring Republican candidates that are certified election deniers. Several actually participated in the January 6 coup on the US Capitol which featured calls for hanging or injuring both the Speaker and the Vice-President. Republican Party leaders are promising a spate of Congressional investigations and even impeachments. This is dangerous territory for our country. Vindictive revenge is never a positive motivator for thoughtful policymaking.

According to testimony offered by Rachel Kleinfeld, a specialist in civil conflict at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, before the 1/6 Committee the threats to democracy are accelerating with Republican Party backing. She offers “somewhere between 20% and 40% of Americans would like a strongman leader who doesn’t have to follow the democratic rules…in 1973, in the midst of some of the worst years of the Troubles, one in five people in Northern Ireland agreed that violence is a legitimate way to achieve one’s goals. Half a century later, a similar proportion of Republican voters in the US say that it is ‘justified to use political violence to accomplish political goals.”

Equally as concerning is that organized violence on the right is being committed by established community members and their behavior is a direct result of the Big Lie, namely that the 2020 election was stolen. According to a survey by the American Enterprise Institute Survey Center on American Life, community involvement on the right has been found to correlate with greater belief in conspiracies such as Stop the Steal and Q-Anon, as does church membership among white Evangelicals. This, according to Kleinfeld, tracks closely with the “demographic picture as Nazi extremism mainstreamed among regular Germans in the 1930s.”

These trends pose at least seven significant risks to our democracy:

1.Violence, intimidation, and harassment can be used for political gain.

  1. Americans may be intimidated from political service, particularly women, parents, and minorities.
    3.Elections risk becoming less free and fair and more prone to mistakes.
  2. America risks losing public health workers and other critical functions.
  3. Violence is likely to increase over time.
  4. It is becoming less safe to exercise our freedoms of speech and assembly.
  5. Paramilitary groups may become a part of political life.

The statistics speak for themselves: threats against members of Congress are more that ten times as high as just five years ago. From 902 threats investigated by Capitol Police in 2016, to 3,939 in the first year of the Trump Administration, to 5,206 by 2018, 6,955 in 2019, 8,613 in 2020, and 9,600 in 2021.

White supremacist propaganda and organizing, as measured by the Anti-Defamation League has increased dramatically, openly white supremacist activity rose more than twelve-fold from 421 incidents in 2017 to 5,125 in 2020.

Casual talk and boisterous calls for a coming civil war must be taken seriously, particularly in light of the mounting stock of statistical data that threatens our democratic pedigree. The fact that there is little if any pushback from leaders in the Republican Party reflects a desire to support such actions in the name of securing power, a proposition that is profoundly antithetical to the foundational principles of the Constitution, it is anti-American and anti-democratic.

So if you think you don’t have a duty and responsibility to weigh in on next week’s election, think again. I have my opinions and they are expressed herein, however I would never presuppose that if you did not agree with me then I had the right and duty to declare you my enemy. As a former athlete I cannot even imagine respect for anyone who declares right up front that if they win the election it was fair, if they lose it is illegitimate. Such infantile logic or more appropriately the lack of coherence embodied thereof must be a wake-up call to all Americans that we are in the midst of a dangerous transformation to an autocratic state.

We must stop this transformation in its tracks for the sake of generations to come as well as the legacy that will mark our commitment to the concept of a peaceful transition of power, the hallmark to democracy.