Political violence: Is America headed for a divorce?
The neighbors of a mass shooter can usually be counted on to mumble shell-shocked clichés about how “normal” he seemed, said Christopher Ingraham in WashingtonPost.com. But after James Hodgkinson opened fire last week on House Republicans as they practiced for a baseball game, one of his Belleville, Ill., neighbors made a comment that “speaks volumes about political culture in the United States.” The neighbor said he rarely spoke to Hodgkinson for one simple reason: “‘He was a Democrat and I was a Republican, so we didn’t have too much to talk about.’” This is what America has become in 2017: a land where we are “partisans first and neighbors second.” We’re now a nation where more than 40 percent of Republicans and Democrats say the other party is “a threat to the nation’s well-being,” and where seething extremists like Hodgkinson, who constantly vented his partisan bile on his Facebook page, are so commonplace that no one bats an eyelid until the first shot rings out. Hostilities between militant liberals and resentful traditionalists have been intensifying for decades, said J. Robert Smith in AmericanThinker.com. As summer comes on, is that “long cold civil war” about to “finally turn hot?”
Americans may seem “polarized and violent” at the moment, said Jeet Heer in NewRepublic.com, but that’s because we always have been. Let’s not forget that this nation was founded on the mass slaughter of Native Americans and the sweat of slaves dragged here in chains and whipped into subservience. We’ve endured a Civil War that cost more than 600,000 lives, and countless race riots, racial murders, and politically motivated bombings. Four of our presidents were assassinated, and many more survived thwarted attempts. “Violence is part of our collective political DNA,” said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune. America was born in the bloodshed of the Revolution, and we’ve always had rabid ideologues with “fervent faith in the purifying value of guns, ropes, and bombs.” It may be small comfort, but the hateful rhetoric and violence surrounding us are hardly aberrations or unique to the Trump era.
Previous generations had their differences, said Niall Stanage in TheHill.com, but they didn’t have the internet or cable TV. Today Americans “choose their news from sources that conform with their existing ideological leanings,” then get further hardened in their positions by the echo chambers of social media. The result is that extremists now dominate the debate, and “partisan enmity” continues to grow. Our political tribes really do fear and loathe each other, said Emily Badger and Niraj Chokshi in NYTimes.com. A Pew poll last year found that 68 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats are motivated less by their party’s ideas than by the fear the other party’s policies would ruin the country.
This won’t end well, said David French in NationalReview.com, but it needn’t be bloody. Red and Blue America are already sorting themselves into distinct geographical areas, which may provide some grim hope. More likely than a second Civil War is a “national divorce,” in which the two sides embrace strong states’ rights and live by their own laws and mores in “ideologically homogenous enclaves.” It’s too soon to give up on the idea of a politically diverse America, said Kevin Williamson, also in NationalReview.com, but “we all have some work to do,” starting with a simple acknowledgment that our political opponents are as American and well-intentioned as we are. In such angry times, it can be easy to forget that “nobody said being free would be easy.” ■