Are Americans Provoking Each Other Into Political Violence?
The proportion of Americans believing that it’s at least somewhat justifiable for their political party to use violence to achieve its goals has risen from fewer than one in ten just three years ago to one in three now, according to polls. Meanwhile, predictions abound of disruptions around the election and of fighting in the years to come. After months of social unrest and with the country’s political factions intent on mutual destruction, the U.S. looks at risk of becoming a failing democracy in which disputes are settled in the streets.
“Like a growing number of prominent American leaders and scholars, we are increasingly anxious that this country is headed toward the worst post-election crisis in a century and a half,” wrote Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution, Lee Drutman of New America, Tod Lindberg of the Hudson Institute, Nathan P. Kalmoe of Louisiana State University, and Lilliana Mason the University of Maryland in an October 1 piece in Politico. “Our biggest concern is that a disputed presidential election—especially if there are close contests in a few swing states, or if one candidate denounces the legitimacy of the process—could generate violence and bloodshed.”
Drawing on polling data, the authors point out that support for the use of violence to achieve political goals has risen from 8 percent for both Democrats and Republicans in 2017 to 33 percent for Democrats and 36 percent for Republicans now. “In September, 44 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats said there would be at least ‘a little’ justification for violence if the other party’s nominee wins the election,” they add.
That squares with the insights of David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer and Bush (junior) administration counterterrorism advisor who warned in June that “America may be in what the CIA Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency calls ‘incipient insurgency.'”
Kilcullen is unimpressed by reports that this year’s protests have been mostly peaceful since, in his experience in countries including Iraq, “only a tiny minority—2 to 5 percent —of individuals in insurgencies, civil wars, or criminal gangs actually commit violence,” and that’s all it takes.
The U.S. Justice Department, too, is concerned “that toxic politics, combined with the potential uncertainty surrounding vote tallies, could lead to violent demonstrations or clashes between opposing factions” according to The Washington Post. As a result, the FBI is establishing a command center to deal with election-related disturbances.
It seems remarkable to contemplate modern Americans settling their di
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