A calm voice in a turbulent time.
In March of 2016, during the heat of the Republican primary contest, Josh Marshall, the tetchy founder of Talking Points Memo, offered an ominous augury about the raucous Trump campaign. “Someone will die,” he thundered, giving, at the time, the umpteenth warning about the violent effects of the real estate magnate’s aggressive rhetoric. “It may sound like hyperbole. But this is the kind of climate of agitation and violence where someone will end up getting severely injured or killed. I do not say that lightly,” Marshall warned his loyal audience.
I’ve thought about the piece a lot since Trump’s unlikely election and the Democrats’ slow descent into madness. Every new instance of liberal-concocted violence brings it back to mind, like a nagging reminder. Whether it’s James Hodgkinson’s attempted killing spree, Trump supporters accosted in public, or even hoaxed hate crimes, Marshall’s prediction might appear prescient, albeit in a backwards way.
In “No Hate Left Behind,” Thomas Edsall cites a study from political scientists Nathan Kalmoe and Lilliana Mason on the growing ease at which Americans are willing to employ violence against their partisan opponents. “Just over 42 percent of the people in each party view the opposition as ‘downright evil,’” Edsall despairs, unaware that one of his byline colleagues once suggested “good people can’t be Republicans.” The data only gets worse from there. When asked if their favored party loses the 2020 presidential election, “18.3 percent of Democrats and 13.8 percent of Republicans said violence would be justified on a scale ranging from ‘a little’ to ‘a lot.’”
Then there’s the question of ontological moral status. The researchers found that “nearly one out of five Republicans and Democrats agree with the statement that their political adversaries ‘lack the traits to be considered fully human — they behave like animals.’”
Ahh, there’s that increasingly annoying false-moral-equivalence again. And false it is.
Consider: one side endorses murdering newly-born infants as “a woman’s right to choose”; one…doesn’t. One side commits actual acts of violence as punishment for expressing a dissenting opinion, even for merely wearing a certain hat in public. The other…doesn’t. One side holds rage-fueled rallies and protests which leave mountains of rubbish, ruined landscaping, broken windows, even bags of human feces and/or urine in their aftermath. The other holds mannerly, entirely (not “mostly”) peaceable events at which no one but themselves need fear assault, and thoroughly polices up its mess afterwards.
One side primarily inhabits decaying urban areas enlivened by crackheads, hookers, vagrants, and raving madmen; sidewalks festooned with piles of human shit; and miscellaneous other signposts of sophistication, superior intelligence, and gracious living. The other prefers clean, quiet, well-tended suburbs or more remote country homes, also clean and well-tended. In those areas, any shambolic wino stumbling groggily onto someone’s nicely-manicured lawn to pinch an open-air loaf will find himself remanded into police custody with a quickness, with three hots and a cot the only compensation for the “injustice” visited upon him. Hell, when somebody’s dog shits on the lawn it’s usually cleaned up right away.
No, one of these things is NOT like the other. I’ll leave it to you guys to discuss which is the more civilized and which is more closely comparable to “behaving like animals.” It seems pretty danged obvious to me, but YMMV. Then comes the calmer perspective:
Saying there’s too much hatred in America’s air is like saying there’s too much salt in the ocean. The country was founded on partisan bickering, which occasionally turned violent. It’s narrow-minded to suggest we’re at a more perilous time in our history than, say, the Civil War or even the frequent riots of the ‘60s and ‘70s or the Galleanist bombings of 1919. The last guy who tried to wage a national bombing campaign only sent duds from his bumper-sticker-laden creeper van.
Aside from hyperventilating Hollywood types, who get an outsized amount of media coverage, and the discursive rantings on Facebook, we’re not quite at the point where neighbors turn on neighbors, kids turn on parents, brothers turn on brothers, all in a bloody free-for-all. Go to a supermarket on any given day and you’ll see all types of Americans quietly going about their business. Few people let the fear of mass shootings or terrorist attacks disrupt their plans. We have yet to see roving gangs of marauders targeting MAGA-hat wearers or Beto devotees.
America doesn’t have an anger problem so much as it has an anger-management problem. We’re a naturally het-up people. Sometimes that leaks out into scrums of fisticuffs. But, a lot of frustration that drives these physical altercations comes from a double standard. Those who go unpunished for aggression aren’t going to see the light and make peace with their ideological adversaries. One side gets a clear pass when it comes to acting on its frustrations, and it’s not the side Jussie Smollett tried to blame for his botched publicity stunt. When leftists haul off and slug conservatives, the media-driven outcry is not nearly the same as when the inverse occurs.
Josh Marshall inadvertently revealed as much by focusing on Trump’s coarse language and not the left’s own lack of self-control. Yes, someone has died as a casualty of a twisted political ideology. But the threat of a mass breakout in violence remains overstated. How we act in person is different than what we say on Twitter or to a pollster. One-on-one conversation can ease years of Facebook-fueled tension in just minutes. As Great Britain’s P.G. Wodehouse once admitted during the Blitz, “when I’m about to feel belligerent about some country I meet a decent sort of chap” who causes him to lose “any fighting feelings or thoughts.”
That can all change, of course.
It can at that. We’ll know soon enough which way things go.