The Great Chasm! America’s Growing Political Violence and Divide.

Alex Skelley

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Over the past few years, and the past few weeks especially, America has seen the number of violent or divisive political incidents rise at an alarming rate. The current political divide is one of the biggest ever in the US, with many polls even indicating it’s the worst it’s ever been. This article diving into this issue will be divided in 3 parts. The 1st will talk about types of incidents and specific examples. The 2nd will talk about what’s causing them. And lastly the 3rd will address ways we can fix these problems.

Part 1:

The following is a list of types and examples of political violence, divisiveness, and extremism:

  1. Congressional Baseball Shooting: On June 14 2017, James Hodgkinson opened fire at a republican congressmen practicing for a game with a semi-automatic rifle. 6 people were injured and the perpetrator died. His reported motive was that recently Dem. Senator Bernie Sanders had said the new republican healthcare plan would literally kill people, and Hodgkinson had taken that as a reason to carry out this attack.

(Shawn Thew)
2. Ricin letters: Just about a month ago, letters containing the deadly poison ricin were mailed to leading republican figures, including Pres. Trump along with Senators Ted Cruz and Susan Collins.

3. Rand Paul: Earlier this year, congressman Rand Paul was attacked by a neighbor who disagreed with him politically. Five of his ribs were fractured due to the attack.

4. Mail Bombs: Last week, 14 mail bombs were discovered, all of which were addressed to top democratic figures and supporters. None of the bombs exploded. The attempted bomber was reportedly a far right wing extremist.

5. Harassment and Restaurants: Over the past few weeks, many videos have made their rounds on the internet that depict political figures at restaurants being harassed, screamed at, or kicked out. This includes Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who was kicked out of a DC restaurant by Anti-Kavanaugh protesters, and Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi who was heckled by Trump Supporters at a Florida restaurant. Other Notable people this has happened to include Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Sen. Mitch Mcconnell.

 

6. College Campus Speaker Protests: Over the past few years, in response to campus speakers who they don’t agree with politically, some student groups have taken to violent or disruptive protests to shut down the event. One example is in Feb 2017, a right wing pundit named Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley. In response, many students participated in a protest the turned violent and dangerous, with fireworks being shot, cars being flipped, people being assaulted, and projectiles being thrown. Eventually the event was called off. Another case of this is with Conservative Pundit and Journalist Ben Shapiro, who while also speaking at Berkeley, faced similar protests.

 

7. Calling for “Action”: Since Brett Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS confirmation, many congresspeople(mostly from the democratic party) have called for action and even violence against those of the opposing political party. Sen. Cory Booker recently told his supporters at a rally to “Get up in the face of some congresspeople”. In the same week, at a speaking event, former democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stated “Civility can start again, when democrats take the house or the senate”. Also Congresswoman Maxine Waters has called multiple times for the harassment of Trump cabinet members and officials.

 

 

8. Hostile Protests and Riots: A trend of “hostile protests” has been on the rise for a few years now. These protests come in all shapes and sizes, but are generally characterized by hostility to dissenters, irrational participants, violence, or destruction. The most recent example of this were the protests during and following the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation vote. During the voting, many videos surfaced of people harassing and screaming at republican senators who were expected to vote in favor of the confirmation. Also, following the confirmation, many more videos surfaced of protesters screaming, freaking out, and even banging on the doors of the Supreme Court. On the higher end of the violence spectrum is the St. Louis Black Lives Matter riot in 2017. After the acquittal of a white police officer charged with the murder of an African American man, protests broke out in the city of St. Louis. These protests turned to riots after participants refused to disperse and started to damage windows and buildings. By the end of the protests, much damage had been inflicted to the city. The point is that the line between protest and riot is becoming a grey area and it’s having negative effects.

9. The rise of ANTIFA: ANTIFA is a left-wing anti-fascist group. They are a militant group, who attack people who they label fascist. The only problem is that the people they often label fascists aren’t usually actual fascists, but are instead conservatives of right wingers with whom they disagree. Back in 2017, the US government labeled them a terrorist group. ANTIFA is known for showing up at right-wing events and starting fights or attacking people. They are also known for their own protests which often turn violent with them attacking people, and for joining other left-wing protests like the Milo Protests at UC Berkeley.

10. The Midterms: On a less violent note, one way the political polarization manifests itself is in the 2018 midterm elections. For one, interest in the midterm elections by either side was at one of the highest levels ever. Moving to voting, 2018 set a record for early and absentee voting. This means that people who couldn’t vote on Nov 6, instead of just not voting, voted early to insure there support for their candidate. Also, political spending on campaigns hit an all time high. Around $3 billion were spent on ads. This is really all a symptom of the political polarization in the US right now. As people get more polarized and invested in politics, they do more and more to ensure and support their political party. This includes the massive voting and spending totals we saw this election.

11. Tucker Carlson Incident: On the night of November 11th 2018, a mob gathered outside the house of Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson. Mr. Carlson’s wife, who was home at the time, reports the the mob was yelling and chanting threats, and that she was scared for her life. A great analysis of the incident and its effects was done on the Fox News show, The Five.

Part 2:

What is the cause of all this? Well, usually when this question is asked, it results in shouting and finger pointing at the other party, instead of an intelligent discussion. Despite this, we can still single out some of the things that cause the Divide and Violence we’re seeing.

  1. People are not keeping an open mind, and are not being exposed to new ideas: Recently, I read an article that talked about how a study found that smarter people are often substantially more open-minded than the average person. Open-mindedness allows people to take more ideas into consideration, which results in the person knowing more and being more flexible in what they think. Open-mindedness is important in politics because if you don’t take the views of others into consideration, you’ll never be able to come to a common conclusion. You need to know where the other person is coming from. For all you know, they could have the answer, but if you never consider their ideas, that answer will never come. Right now in America, we’re not keeping this essential open-mind. Most political interview shows will only bring on guests who agree with them, and deprive the audience and themselves of exposure to opposing point of views. If you look at congress, they barely even consider each individual issue, and instead just vote on party lines. It’s even worse on College campuses, where students groups will have violent protests of speakers they disagree with politically, in attempts to shut down these events. In a place that’s supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, having a dissenting view to the majority can get you in lots of trouble. When you refuse to take into consideration the ideas of the other side, it pushes you further from them. We can’t find common ground because we aren’t concerned about what the other side wants.

2. News Bias: You’ve probably heard Donald Trump talking about fake news. While he usually takes it too far, his claims usually stem from a truth. That truth being that the media is biased. Not just the liberal bias of CNN, but also the Conservative bias of Fox News. When you have news sources biased like this, people will watch the show that they align with politically due to confirmation bias. This means that you’re likely to seek only info that supports what you believe. The problem with this is that these shows usually don’t give another point of view, which brings you back to the open-mindedness things. Being closed off from the other side, and only hearing info that confirms your political beliefs pushes you further and further from center. This on a large scale can easily lead to a substantial part of the political divide we see in the US right now.

(Vanessa Otero)

3. Politicians not disavowing violence: When violence intrudes on politics, it should immediately be disavowed. The problem is that often in politics, this does not happen. This happens for many reasons, mostly due to politicians not wanting to lose voters. Going all the way back to the 2016 presidential election you had Donald Trump’s resistance to disavow the KKK. After that it was the car attack in Charlottesville. Following the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation, many democratic figures were ask about their thoughts on the escalating violence against republicans. The figures include Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and many others. While you expect that they’re disavow this violence, most of them just danced around the question in order not to alienate their voting base. On the other side of the political isle, some prominent republicans have also danced around the question when asked about the recent mail bombs sent to Democratic Figures. Another example is how at a rally a few weeks ago, president trump praised a republican congressman who body slammed a reporter. Some political figures even go as far as to encourage violence like Democrat Strategist Jim Devine, who started the #huntrepublicans after the 2017 congressional baseball shooting, and went on to double down on it when asked about it. When these politicians don’t call out these incidents of violence, it can lead to a feeling that it’s ok the commit them.

4. “Liberal Hollywood”: I know it may seem a little biased to say that, but Hollywood definitely has apparent liberal leanings. This wouldn’t be bad, except most actors and others in hollywood use their fame as a platform to push their political views. Movies are having more and more political propaganda infused into them. Every award show is used to bash Donald Trump. Conservative actors in hollywood can’t even get work, due to a “blacklist”. This all polarizes and alienates people. It’s also just annoying taken to an extreme level. Hollywood is one of the most divisive institutions in the US today. You can learn more about Hollywood political bias in the book “Primetime Propaganda” which is a comprehensive expose on the issue.

(Fox News)

Part 3:

How can we fix these problems?

  1. Talk and listen: The biggest thing we can do is talk to the other side. We need to debate ideas, listen to other point of views, and have substantial intelligent discussions. We need to communicate effectively. College campuses must once again become a marketplace of ideas. News networks need to be less biased, and present more opposing views. We must drop the shouting and hostility that’s often brought out by bi-partisanship, and replace it with problem-solving and open-mindedness. Be ready to hear other ideas, and to present your own.

(Michael James)

2. Stop name calling: We need to stop labeling our political opponents as Stalin or Hitler or anything like that. It polarizes us, and creates the feeling that violence is ok. It also takes away from the discussion. Again as I said above, talk and listen.

3. Disavow all violence: While politicians often call out violence against their party, they’re usually hesitant to do so when it’s against the opposing one. This needs to go. When you don’t call out violence against the other side, it causes that other side to dislike you. When it comes to violence, we must thinks of each other as fellow Americans to be there for, and not you’re political adversary.

4. Don’t take politics as life and death: Let’s be honest here, Donald Trump becoming president, or Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the house, or Brett Kavanaugh joining the supreme court will not kill you. We take politics way too seriously and put more and more investment into each political event that comes up. Whether it be an election, a nomination, or even midterms, we care way too much about politics. This leads people to become radical or violent when their side loses. The good thing about politics is there’s always the next elections. If you lose, just grind your teeth, show some american fortitude and wait a few years. We’re lucky to live in the greatest country in the world. We have the most economic opportunity and freedom in the world. A poor person in the US is considered middle class by global standards. We have the most freedom in the world. We have it pretty good, so if you get so far into politics that it makes you violent, be grateful for what you have.

5. Realize we have a pretty good country: The US has the most economic opportunity and freedom in the world. Additionally, we have one of the top systems of economic mobility. The Brookings institute and Southern Poverty Law Center(SPLC) report that if you do the following three things, you won’t be permanently poor in the US: Graduate High School, Get a job(and keep it), and don’t have kids before you’re married. Also, if you’re poor in the US, then by global standards you’re middle class. In reality, the US is the most economically and politically free country ever created. So instead of  going crazy and being so politically divided, just be happy you live in such a great place.

6. Respect other people’s opinions, even if you disagree: One of the biggest problems causing the polarization in the country is the lack of respect for other opinions. People will another person’s opinion on an issue as evil or terrible, when in all actuality it’s just the other person’s idea to solve an issue. To get past this issue, we all must accept that other people are entitled to their own opinions, and respect those opinions even if we disagree. A great way to summarize this is the phrase “Agree to disagree”.

Conclusion:

The political divide is getting worse, and violence becoming more and more prominent. Given this, it is up to all of us as Americans to come up with a solution. If we continue to bash the other side, and use cheap tactics to gain political victories, the problems will only get worse.

In all actuality, Republicans and Democrats have way more common ground and beliefs than we think. The problem is that we ignore this common ground, and only focus on the divisive disagreements. With that said, we must unify under the title of Americans, not Democrats or Republicans, and work together to find common ground and stop the violence.

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The Great Chasm! America’s Growing Political Violence and Divide.