After I posted my rant yesterday about violence and threats of violence in politics, two of our more long-standing commenters — James H and mantis — expressed their displeasure with the piece in no uncertain terms. I happen to value both of them a great deal — at several points in time, I have extended invitations to both to become regular authors here, and wouldn’t mind in the least if they ever did — so I answered them directly in the comments. With mantis, I took the extra step of initiating a direct e-mail exchange over the matter. (James, I was going to write you as well, but I got wrapped up in other crap. Sorry, old chum.)
For the record, that rant was not written sincerely. The tone was deliberately chosen to echo President Obama’s speech to American bankers, where he told them that his administration “was the only thing standing between them and the pitchforks.” I found that appalling, especially since there were actual protests with actual pitchforks and actual torches, going on, and my intent was to demonstrate how angered I was that the President of the United States was acting less like the Chief Executive and more like the Chief Community Organizer in using others’ threats of violence to get his way, appealing as a “moderating voice” who can quell the raging mobs. (Supporting links were in the original article.)
I’m not going to summarize or quote the substance of the ensuing discussion, as it was not for public consumption (also, I’m certain, that mantis would say I am misconstruing him, and he’d probably be right), but I am going to take his last question to me and answer it publicly — because I think it is something that is worthy of public discussion.
Where do you think things are headed, and why?
Again, the topic was violence and threats of violence in politics.
Like I said in the title, I’m not sure where it’s going. But I do have an idea about where it’s coming from.
We just emerged from eight years of the George W. Bush administration. And during that time, conservatives were called every name in the book and accused of every wrong and sin imaginable. We (and I’m loosely calling myself “conservative” here for the purposes of the argument) were election-stealing, war-mongering, lie-spreading, sexist, racist, bigoted, xenophobic, genocidal, homophobic, gun-obsessed, psychos who represented everything that was wrong with AmeriKKKa and needed to be defeated and suppressed.
Oh, and the Christians among us were labeled “the Religious Reich” and “The American Taliban,” among other things.
It was almost all entirely bullshit, of course. But it took its toll.
And over the same time, almost every single act of violence that could in some way be found to have some kind of political overtones was laid at our feet. Mass shootings? Obviously the gun nuts enabled them. Guy with tax issues flies his plane into the IRS? Must be a teabagger. (Oh, don’t get me started on THAT one.) Nut shoots people at the Pentagon or the Holocaust Museum? More gun nuts.
As I said, it takes its toll. And after a while, some on the fringe started saying to themselves stuff like “hell, if we’re gonna get blamed for this shit, we might as well do it” or “let’s give the assholes something to really whine about” or “if they’re gonna get their panties in a bunch over this, let’s see them completely lose their shit when we start acting like they say we do.”
No, I’m not condoning it. On the contrary — I think it’s wrong on both a moral level and a pragmatic one. These fringers need to be identified and discouraged from acting out — and when they do, they need to pay the price for their crimes and misdeeds.
But I think I understand it, a little.
Here is the problem with demonizing your opponents: you run the risk of creating a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you repeatedly assert that the vast majority of your opposition are horrific monsters and the worst sorts of people on earth, you just might motivate some of them to show you just how wrong you were — that when you said they were the worst imaginable, you weren’t imagining enough.
It’s why I’ve personally shown restraint in my rhetoric against the Democrats who hold power. Yeah, they’re terribly wrong and doing horrid things to the country, but they aren’t the worst imaginable. I’ve seen what really, really determined leftists can do to a country (we’re getting a wonderful demonstration in Venezuela right now), and compared to them, Obama, Reid, and Pelosi are frigging pikers.
I also give them credit for sincerity. Yeah, they’re totally fucking up the country and causing messes that could take decades to fix (if ever), but they’re doing it with the best of intentions and little malice.
Years ago, I read an observation that really struck me as true: “Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.”
The vast majority of liberals aren’t stupid. Woefully misguided and flat-out wrong on most things, but not stupid.
And the vast majority of conservatives aren’t evil.
The more you unfairly paint with that broad brush, the more you’re inviting people to take that broad brush away from you and shove it right up your ass.
Both sides need to tone it down, but especially the Left. For one, they currently hold the reins of power — and coupled with that power is the need to wield it prudently and wisely. When you’re in the minority, you can be a bit more of a bomb-thrower (rhetorically speaking). But it’s incumbent on those in power to act more responsibly.
For another, the side they’re calling evil is, as a general rule, far better armed and better trained in violence.
I believe the left is wrong in their characterizations of the right. For their sake, they better pray they’re wrong, too.
Either way, I’d rather it not be put to the test.