Political Anger and Political Violence

Dear Joel,

Let’s talk about threats of political violence.

No, not Kathy Griffin. (Though we can talk about her, too. I think a severed Trump head is a fine form of political speech, not a threat against the president, and I wish that someone cleverer than Griffin had done it, that the image had been more meaningful, not less graphic. In fact, I’ve been warning conservative Christians about the risks of a symbolic Trump beheading for awhile now.)

I mean Kim Weaver, a Democrat running who was running against Iowa’s Steve King for a seat in the House. King is a racist and a nativist, and he’s quite open and proud of those beliefs. Weaver had run against King in 2016 and was gearing up to run against him again for 2018. She dropped out of the race this week, though, citing, in part, the toll that constant threats–including death threats–was taking on her.

And I mean Stephanie Clayton, the Kansas House Republican who was threatened with hanging on social media after she announced that she was voting with her moderate colleagues to keep guns off Kansas’ campuses, a choice that most faculty on those campuses support.

And Clementa (“Clem”) Pinckney, a Democrat serving in South Carolina’s House, who was killed when a white supremacist opened fire during his church service two summers ago.

And I mean Gabby Giffords, who had been targeted by violent right-wingers high on the violent rhetoric of Sarah Palin and others long before she was shot in a mass shooting that killed 6 others, including a Judge John Roll–who had also long faced death threats–and a child.

And Robert Smith Vance, a federal judge killed in his Alabama home by a mail bomb sent by a man who’d also been bombing civil rights advocates.

And James M. Hind, the first member of Congress assassinated. Hind, representing Arkansas in the House, was gunned down by a Klansman for his support of the rights of former slaves.

And John W. Stephens, a North Carolina state senator, who was murdered by Klansmen for his popularity among black voters, whose support had brought him into office.

And Tomás “Tomasito” Romero, a Pueblo who was assassinated after his capture for daring to rebel against US annexation of Mexico.

Above, Clayton, Hind, Vance, Pinckney, Giffords, and Stephens–all threatened or murdered by people whose political conservatism drove their violence. 

What do these folks have in common? They all represented a symbolic threat to the rule of conservative white men, and they were all threatened or killed because of it.

It’s not the political violence doesn’t happen to conservatives or that those on the left don’t commit violence (McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, as just one example.) But the violence and the violent rhetoric trends one direction: conservatives fomenting violence and hatred toward those they see as liberal or progressive.

Compare the rhetoric of the Women’s March to that of any Tea Party rally.

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Does he know he’s quoting Malcolm X?

[Above, a man at a Tea Party rally wears a hat indicating that he’s a Desert Storm veteran. Behind him is the Gadsen Flag, which has become associated not simply with the Tea Party but with anti-government extremist and hate movements. He holds a sign saying “By ballet or by bullet restoration is coming.”] 

Ask yourself: Do Democrats have to monitor their events to insure that participants aren’t unfurling a Confederate flag?

Consider the millions of racist images of the Obama family, including images of President Obama lynched. Or find the online images of a digital Hillary Clinton being sexually assaulted. (Better yet, don’t.)

In an attempt to find common ground in what feels like a very polarized America, it’s tempting for good liberals to suggest that we’re all guilty of othering our political opponents, that we’ve all engaged in debased language, that we’ve all been demeaned by the current political climate.

But we’re not all equally guilty. Not by a long shot.

Our pal Erick Erickson, in an article denying that we should be concerned about the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, said recently that he “would actually be really surprised if we make it to December 31st of this year without people in this country taking up arms against each other.” He’s part of the problem, of course–and he’s ignoring the fact that it’s almost always been social conservatives who have threatened civil war and see it unfolding with every new sign of equal treatment for women, African Americans, and LGBT people, not progressives. Factions of the right have been living in 1832 South Carolina for all their lives. They’re slobbering for a fight–all the time.

Speaking like a man in the first session of his court-ordered domestic abuser treatment program, Erickson goes on:

If the left really does believe the Republican Party is a criminal enterprise in league with the Russians, they’re either moral cowards without conviction in their beliefs or about to take up arms to defend their country. If the right really does believe the left is engaged in an unconstitutional coup against the lawfully elected President, they’re either moral cowards without convictions in their beliefs or about to take up arms to defend their country.

That’s right: If we really mean what we say when we say about our political opponents, in Erickson’s view, the only courageous option is civil war. Erickson, protected by his own privileges, doesn’t seem to understand what that would actually mean for the world. and doesn’t have the moral imagination to create solutions to these problems outside of violence. And Erickson is typical of many other conservatives in this regard.

So I’m not believing the crocodile tears of Republicans or their feigned horror over Kathy Griffin’s stunt.

And I’m not arguing that since they are propagators of violent rhetoric  we should be too. “When they go low, we go high” is a pretty good motto. And I don’t think we’re near to a civil war, despite Dennis Prager’s might tempt you and me to worry about.

But I am arguing, ever more forcefully, that we shouldn’t cater to the anger of Trump voters. So much post-election analysis expressed surprise at how angry these folks were, calling on good liberals to try to understand things from the perspectives of white voters in the exurbs and in rustbelt towns and places ripped apart by heroin and opioid epidemics. But underneath all that analysis was the idea that we should be afraid of these people. They are desperate… they are angry… they have guns…

And they tell us this themselves in threats veiled and explicit.

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Above, protestors at a rally in defense of the display of the Confederate flag on public property display a giant flag from the back of a Cadillac SUV. Superimposed over the stars and bars is an image of an assault rifle and the words “Come and Take It.” I’m clearly supposed to be afraid of these people, who are just itching for a fight. 

But I’m angry too–and not just at Trump but at every fool who embraced his bigotry or willfully ignored it in order to get scammed by the biggest heel in reality TV.  That anger isn’t going away, and I’m not adding fear to it.

Rebecca

 

 

 

 

Dennis Prager’s Civil War (Or: Why I’m Going to Keep on Loving Donald Trump Supporters, Dammit)

Rebecca:

I’ve mentioned a few conservatives who intrigue me because of their willingness to think in unorthodox ways. Dennis Prager, on the other hand, is a conservative who intrigues me because he is so relentlessly orthodox, so consumed by his contempt for liberals, that I know I’ll never find common ground with him. On anything, possibly. But smart conservatives I know seem to dig him, so I pay (sporadic) attention, knowing he possibly is the manifestation of the Conservative Id.

Here’s a passage from his latest, explaining why he thinks some conservatives still aren’t on the side of President Trump:

The first and, by far, the greatest reason is this: They do not believe that America is engaged in a civil war, with the survival of America as we know it at stake.

While they strongly differ with the left, they do not regard the left-right battle as an existential battle for preserving our nation. On the other hand, I, and other conservative Trump supporters, do.

Oh dear.

Now. There was some conservative pushback against this piece — but not much against the “Civil War” contention. To be honest, I think a lot of folks on the left would agree that we’re in a kill-or-be-killed — maybe metaphorical, maybe not — battle over what makes being “American.”

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about reconciliation, because I think we Americans are going to need a healthy dose of it sometime soon if we’re going to continue down the path of being a single nation. (I don’t think that outcome is guaranteed, frankly: Just because we’re currently and have been one nation for a long time doesn’t mean that state of affairs is guaranteed for the future. And who knows? Maybe a division would be for the best. But I digress….)

Specifically, I’ve been wondering how to advocate for the things I think are good, oppose the things I think are bad, yet still lay the groundwork for peaceful coexistence with neighbors who think differently than I do.

Is that even possible?

We’ve talked a bit about Nazi punching lately, and one concern I haven’t really expressed about the whole thing is this: How do we decide who the Nazis are?

Don’t get me wrong: Richard Spencer is an avowed white supremacist. If you’re going to divide people into Nazi-Not a Nazi categories, he’s pretty easy to categorize.

But damn, it sure seems the labels for what defines a Nazi are pretty expansive these days, and on both sides. Google “trump hitler” and you get 33 million results. The first page of image results gets you this:

trump hitler

Conservatives do the same: I remember well when National Review’s John Derbyshire responded to a Senator Obama proposal — that college students do community service — with a blog post headlined “Arbeit Macht Frei.” You know: The message that welcomed Jews to the concentration camps. (Derbyshire was eventually forced to leave NRO because of his own racist posting: Despite his rhetoric against Obama, most people would probably toward placing Derb in the “Nazi” category.) Google “obama hitler” and you get a mere 18 million results. You can guess what the image results page looks like.

obama hitler

We can’t all be Nazis can we? Yet, we (and here I’m speaking of Americans, left and right) persist in seeing the other side as such — with the result that we naturally contemplate extreme behaviors in response. Like (say) punching strangers.

(One problem: The Nazis encompassed such a vast array of behaviors that it’s pretty easy to start to make comparisons: Ohmigod! They were democratically elected! They didn’t start off shepherding Jews into concentration camps — but by expelling and hassling and incarcerating disfavored ethnic groups. It’s easy enough to start to draw comparisons, but then: Most people, even on the left, agree that the United States is like other countries in that it has the right to secure its borders and regulate immigration to a degree. But once you accept that logic to any degree and act accordingly, the Nazi comparisons become pretty easy.)

(This is why a certain brand of libertarianism can be seductive in its clarity — the kind that seems to see nearly any government action as tyranny, which means any tradeoff is bad — but that’s for another time.)

If we all see each other as Nazis and we’re all willing to act accordingly, we cannot continue to live together. Because, eventually, we will kill each other.

If one of us is right about the other side being Nazis, that’s possibly even justified. If that’s the case, then yes, we’re in a Civil War, and there’s nothing to do but have it out.

But.

What if we’re all wrong? What if most of us aren’t Nazis? Or what if we’re not Nazis yet and can still be precluded from becoming so?

Perhaps we need to resist seeing each other in villainous terms. That’s not to say that there aren’t villains — it’s easy to go too far the other way, because there definitely are people who make evil choices for evil reasons, and there are the occasional sociopaths — but, maybe, there aren’t nearly as many as we tend to think there are. Maybe, for the sake of survival, we have to get comfortable with just a touch of ambiguity along those lines.

So. Maybe we on the left need to recognize that (say) many conservatives who are trying to repeal Obamacare aren’t motivated by hatred of the poor, but a genuine belief that a genuine free market might serve everybody better?

Or that not everybody who calls themself “pro-life” is trying to control women’s lives, but genuinely believe they’re preventing murder?

Or that people who favor immigration restrictions aren’t necessarily racist, but do genuinely worry about terrorism?

I don’t think the above stances are, ultimately, correct. And certainly, there are conservatives who have contempt for the poor, conservatives who want to keep women in their place, and conservatives who are acting out of racist motivations. (And, certainly, conservatives might do well to recognize that most liberals don’t want big government for its own sake, believe that real and important issues of female autonomy really are in play on the abortion issue, and genuinely believe immigration really did help build the country and continues to have benefits.)

But combining empathy — does my own life contain contradictions? — with logic suggests that the number of easily caricatured single-dimension villains in our life is smaller than we typically suspect. The other side isn’t necessarily evil, just … wrong. Mistaken. But mistaken because their ideas of a just society are a bit different than ours, not because they reject the idea of a just society.

And if that’s the case, maybe we should avoid the Civil War? It’s not mindless middle-of-the-roadism, is it, to say: “I think I’m right, but personal humility — I might be wrong sometimes! — and respect for my neighbor dictate that I listen to her, and even if we disagree, I don’t have to think she’s a horrible person?”

(Even as I write this, I become aware of my that I’m privileged — I’m a white guy with a degree and — from time to time — an audience for my ramblings, so the likelihood of me experiencing oppression is small, the number of villains in my universe is small. Maybe the problem isn’t that we all see each other as Nazis, but that we don’t — correctly! — see ourselves as Nazis when so many of us are closer to it than we admit. The banality, the routine of evil is what makes it so insidious after all, right? Cut to: Lots of black folks nodding furiously.)

Since the election, I’ve been thinking a lot about Martin Luther King Jr. In some ways, he makes an easy example: Those of us benefit from the status quo would prefer it if everybody setting out to oppose the status quo agreed to use peaceful methods and not threaten an actual armed uprising, even as we continue to glorify armed uprisings in the name of underdog causes we care about. We’re hypocrites, most of us.

Get away from that, though, and it’s good to remember that King sought both justice and reconciliation — saw them, in fact, as inextricable from each other:

Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding with the opponent. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. Nonviolence is directed against evil systems, forces, oppressive policies, unjust acts, but not against persons. Through reasoned compromise, both sides resolve the injustice with a plan of action.

Sounds easy. Isn’t.

Something that shapes me in all this: In 2011, I underwent a series of surgeries that saved my life from a severe attack of diverticulitis. During that period, people I thought I hated — people I had every right to hate — offered me support and comfort and grace. It was a revelatory experience, one that I’ve tried to keep in mind since.  I’m less inclined than ever to find an excuse not to love my neighbor — though I’m obviously imperfect on this front — and more inclined to *try* to offer grace where I least want to give it. I think that’s the way of MLK. I think that’s the way of Jesus. Religious inclinations aside, I suspect it has the virtue of being … virtuous.

I hope you’ll forgive the rambling, Rebecca. I want to to do the right things, oppose the bad ones, and work for reconciliation. Maybe that’s impossible. Maybe if we each and every one of us hold to what we think is true, the civil war is inevitable.

But I don’t think it is. I don’t want it to be. I think we can avert it. It will, however, take hard work, choice, and a generosity of spirit that probably doesn’t come naturally to us.

God help us,

Joel