From the Right: The Normalization of Political Violence
By Don Schmitz
Political violence in America is increasing, with extremists both liberal and conservative attacking the “other side.” Palatably political verbal abuse is increasing in our personal lives, when attackers can do so safely from their living rooms on social media. The ad hominem attacks, name calling, and belittling is rampant, from people that usually would never dream of speaking that way in person.
President Obama correctly stated, “the Internet and social media has helped isolate the American people and aided in perpetuating their own views, regardless of whether they’re true”.
The Pew Research Center found in 2014 that “When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds”, concluding “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines — and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive — than at any point in the last two decades.”
We are stridently divided, but more politically violent? Sadly, yes. Surveys over the past five years show the numbers of Republicans and Democrats justifying political violence has risen from less than 10 percent to 20 percent. The good news is that 86 percent of us affirm that violence for political goals is unacceptable, yet 57 percent believe it will increase.
It’s taken time for us to devolve to this, and political violence ebbs and flows in America historically. The political brutality of our Revolutionary War included grisly torture, rape, murder, and economic deprivations between the loyalists and patriots. Similarly, political conflicts over slavery included burnings of homes, businesses, and hangings. Importantly, in both examples, the country boiled over into open warfare, which we must now avoid.
In the 1700’s free elections were but a dream and Americans, unwilling to genuflect to a monarch anymore after pleading, took up arms. We celebrate their bravery and our nation’s birth every 4th of July, but make no mistake, it wasn’t neatly confined to soldiers and battlefields. We now have a time-tested Constitution, voting, and the rule of law, yet 54 percent of us think we will be less of a democracy in a generation, and 80 percent think civility in politics has worsened. What’s going wrong?
Two things: irresponsible rhetoric of leaders, and us losing faith in our institutions. Both matters must be addressed urgently. Leaders need to speak responsibly again; recently President Biden called MAGA Republicans fascists, while Trump at a rally called the president an “enemy of the state.” Nancy Pelosi in June railed against the Supreme Court, characterizing it as “the GOP’s dark and extreme” super majority.
California congresswoman Sarah Jacobs openly supported political violence over the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion. Predictably, a Simi Valley man was arrested outside Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home in June in an assassination attempt. An angry Democrat hating Republicans for opposing Bernie Sanders’ policies ambushed congressmen practicing for their annual softball fundraiser. He called Republicans the Taliban of the U.S. and tried to murder them all. Pelosi once threatened to punch out Trump should he ever come to the Capitol. I found the visual of Trump and Pelosi in a slap fight somewhat amusing, until a nut job broke into her home and beat her 82-year-old husband with a hammer last week. He was going to kill the speaker of the house. With a hammer. In her home, in San Francisco. He fractured the skull of an 82-year-old man. Completely and totally repulsive and unacceptable.
On the macro scale, the BLM riots of 2020, and the Trump supporters attacking our Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, expanded the political violence beyond individual acts of madness to social movements to create change and bend the will of opponents. Arson and murder became justified by a minority of the political parties, but a minority of millions, and we need to figure this out.
Reducing the inciteful politicians’ rhetoric won’t completely fix the problem. Americans on both sides of the aisle feel angst on the election process, and the integrity of our legal system. Many Democrats believe the 2000 and 2016 presidential elections were stolen from them, while many Republicans believe the same about 2020. In our computer age, it is incomprehensible that we seem stymied to create a fraud-proof election system with hard copy records that everyone can believe in. I still receive ballots at my house for people that haven’t lived in the state for years! Yes, there are historical hot buttons pertaining to voter ID, but consider this: It is either ballots or bullets, and if enough Americans believe that the system is rigged, they will fight. In the ’60s and ’70s, rioters burned cities, leaders were assassinated, soldiers shot college students, and the Weather Underground planted bombs. From Nixon to Carter, our divisions were deep. Yet by 1984, we healed, united, and re-elected President Reagan with 49 states. We can heal again, respect each other, and love our amazing country, as violence only drives us apart.