The Rising Wars of Words That Mark Our Public Political Lives Are Giving Way To Increasing Numbers of Physical Violence
What we know is that a middle-aged man walked into the congressional office of Rep. Gerry Connolly in Virginia, asked for the congressman who was at work in Washington, and swung a metal baseball bat in the office, injuring two staffers, including one intern otherwise marking her first day at work there.
Police later arrested the man, who faces three felony criminal charges and a misdemeanor charge.
It was eerily reminiscent of the hammer-carrying attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, at their San Francisco home, and the latest in a series of personal attacks that have gotten more widespread and harder to anticipate involving not only elected officials but their families or staff members.
It is unclear whether this attack was especially partisan in nature or just a reflection of pent-up frustrations and mental unbalance, but it does seem to be drawing bipartisan concern among elected officials. The suspect did sue the CIA a year ago claiming that the agency had been “wrongfully imprisoning [him] in a lower perspective based on physics” and alleging that he is being “brutally tortured … from the fourth dimension.”
Capitol Police, charged with protecting congressional personnel, recorded more than 9,000 threats against members of Congress this past year, Chief of Police Thomas Manger told a Senate committee a few months ago.
What is clear is that the rising wars of words that mark our public political lives are giving way to increasing numbers of physical violence. What is not clear at all, especially for politicians led by Donald Trump in particular, is whether we want to do anything about it.
The continuing insistence on undercutting policing agencies – federal or state, courts and judges, regulatory agencies, or border agents – who act to intervene in conflicts are being framed in the political arena as picking partisan targets. Thus, we have open assertions flying around that the FBI needs to be reined in or that prosecutors need to refrain from filing charges against one political side or another.
Violence as a Human Trait
Vehemence of political team defense is intensifying, and physical violence for those who cannot fully control themselves is the natural outcome.
Heavily salted by times of perceived individual and group grievance and the refusal to press for addressing what clearly seems a growing mental health crisis, these growing number of politically violent incidents are more than coincidental.
In turn, the fear of violence is spurring acquisition of more and more dangerous weaponry, including the notable rise in the number of automated gun purchases, which, inevitably, are leading to more individual and mass attacks.
Yet, the most obvious solution – to dial down the intensity – remains elusive.
“Conventionally, violence is understood to be often driven by negative emotions, such as anger or fear,” says a study by The Social Psychology and Neuroscience Lab at the University of Virginia’s College of Humanities and Sciences. The center is studying psychopaths, revenge, domestic violence, and whether violence can be treated like an addiction.
Aggressive behavior can be reinforced by positive feelings of power and dominance, and that positive sensation, the study says, works on the same neural circuits as other addictive behaviors, such as cocaine, gambling and engaging in risky sexual behavior.
Other studies note that most animals use aggressive displays to ward off competitors for food or mates without the intention of causing serious injury or death. Predators kill primarily for sustenance — preying upon species other than their own. Two notable exceptions to this general rule are humans and chimpanzees.
Throughout the history of organized political life, violence has played an enormous role in every society created by man, wrote social scientist Gopal Singh in 1976. He was talking about wars rather than internecine individual violence, but it applies, nevertheless.
That’s why we have laws to guide and set up guardrails in our societies.
It seems like time for an update.
We Don’t Agree There is a Problem
Recent declarations by President Joe Biden that white supremacists and white nationalists are now considered the nation’s greatest terrorism threat echo the warnings we have heard from FBI Director Christopher Wray and other national security figures. Just check the numbers behind our domestic terrorism problem.
But the knee-jerk reaction from the political Right has been to decry Biden’s “divisive” talk and essentially to double-down on defending those white nationalists who tend to support Republican candidates.
Almost in response, the House Homeland Security Committee held its own partisan-tilted hearing this week to discuss the threat of organized left-wing violence. The hearing was titled “‘Mostly Peaceful’: Countering Left-Wing Organized Violence.”
Naturally it featured moments in which Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) lashed out against a terrorism expert witness for apparently laughing at her depiction of protests in 2020 led by Black Lives Matter in Seattle and Portland. Greene notied that a “George Soros funded” group was demonstrating outside the hearing itself, and insisting that abortion rights protests were violent to millions of babies.
It seems patently obvious after watching Trump reels promoting violence in the name of pro-Trumpism – from the handling of rally hecklers to the promise of pardon for most January 6 rioters – that he has helped usher in a resurgence of acceptability in physical and increasingly violent confrontation.
It seems clear that there is more aggression on the highway, there are more sharp exchanges about racial, gender, and identity affiliations, there are more efforts to shield ourselves from un-agreeable information. There is more rejection of caring or even thinking about the effect on The Other.
Where is the call to stop this spread of unrestrained violence from our leaders, our pastors, our public educators?
Oh that’s right, doing so might involve the critical thinking we’re so busy rejecting.
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