Civility is on Life Support
Updated: Feb 14, 2021
It takes no heightened intuition to see that Americans are more politically violent today than they have been in decades. For the past year we have watched as boroughs in major cities around the US were burned by riots or seized by anarchists. In the minds of most conservatives and libertarians, the violence seemed to be isolated to the left. Admittedly, I never could have imagined non-leftists mobs committing any acts of political violence. Even the morning of January 6, I watched the news coverage of the absurd "Stop the Steal" rally and, though the rhetoric now is seen as malignant, at the time it seemed benign and all too typical of the hyperbolic word vomit that usually accompanies political rallies.
It is discouragingly commonplace for politicians to speak of going to Washington to "fight" for us or against opponents. While this term previously meant arguing or politicking particular ideals, in recent years the term "fight" has been used to describe creating scenes in public places or fostering conditions for physical altercations with other Americans who do not share your particular viewpoint or policy agenda.
The Swamp is Spreading
If politicians want to treat each other with distain, I could not care less, but they cross the line when calling on citizens to do the same. What concerns me most is Americans becoming so wrapped up in the theatre that is Capitol Hill, that we begin fighting each other and treating each other with distain.
In a recent CBS/YouGov Poll, 54% of respondents stated that they believed their way of life was under threat from "domestic enemies," while only 17% stated they believed the larger threat comes from natural forces, including viruses. Let's think about this for a moment. Americans today believe that other Americans are more threatening to our way of life than a pandemic.
Fear Leads to Anger, Anger Leads to Hate
We live in fear of what our neighbors will do to us. In a similar CBS/YouGov Poll taken earlier this month, Americans were given a choice to describe their political opponents. Did they think their political opponents (Republican-Democrat) were merely political opposition that would promote policies they disagreed with, or did they believe their political opponents to be enemies, which would threaten "your life or your entire way of life?" Of those respondents, 48% believed people of the opposite party to be enemies. Furthermore, nearly one in ten of respondents agreed that "it is acceptable for people to call for force or violence to try to achieve their political goals." So, when Americans fear domestic enemies, they are not referencing radical groups like Antifa or QAnon, they are fearing other non-radicalized Americans. The fear of our fellow countrymen developed into anger against them. That anger, when left untreated, rots and festers into the disease that is hatred.
We have shifted toward a belief that our neighbors are enemies and now a growing minority believes violence is an acceptable way of dealing with this perceived threat. It feels almost cliché at this point to quote President Lincoln that "a house divided against itself cannot stand." However, I feel that few axioms can describe the result of this attitude better. It is perfectly acceptable for us to be divided on viewpoints, policy, and morality. The issue is that we cannot survive if we are divided against ourselves.
Hate Leads to Suffering
I am not intending to sound alarmist, but we are entering a new American era that history tells us will only end in suffering. If swaths of Americans fear and hate each other, their only apparent recourse will be an appeal to the leviathan of government for protection from perceived enemies. They see the government as only a protector and could never foresee how its newfound influence over our lives could ever be used against us.
So, who can fix this? It has been made painfully clear to conservatives in recent years that a political leader will not solve our problems, only we can. This realization speaks to the heart of what all conservatives and libertarian should believe: political authority offers no recourse for social concerns. If we create a new legal weapon for government to use against our opponents, we should not be surprised when that very weapon is later used against us.
We need to stop fearing and hating each other, and begin talking again. We should break from tendencies to create dehumanizing nicknames or caricatures of your opponents, and pursue understanding. Stop seeking offenses or shadows of domestic enemies, and begin seeking connections with your fellow Americans, with whom you just happen to disagree on certain points.