Why Are Politicians Able to Push For Dissidence Without Repercussions?

I have written several articles on postings related to politicians. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on these politicians.

Looking at the state of our political discourse, it is hard to pin down where exactly the rancorous division started. Words are violence, but rioting, looting, and arson are not. Hectoring, menacing, and crowding supporters of President Trump is shrugged off, but insults to the media are a threat to democracy. If that sounds insane, it’s because it is.

Indeed, since Ronald Reagan, the media has been critical of Republicans. However, through the Clinton era, and through the aftermath of September 11, 2001, it seemed we were able to come together across the aisle.

Whether it was to pass legislation or agreeing to defend America’s interests, bipartisan agreement was possible. This video from Business Insider is a visual display of this breakdown. By 108th Congress, 2003-2005, it was nearly impossible and stayed that way.

hortly after 2005, criticism of George W. Bush and his administration had reached a fever pitch. “Bush lied, and people died,” became a mantra on the left. It discounted the bipartisan support for the Iraq War and blamed the president personally for the failure to find large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Judith Miller outlined the intelligence failures that were the root of the problem in her book The Story, but the narrative was and is something else altogether.

It would be difficult to convince me the 2008 election was not a turning point in our political discourse. During the 2008 election, candidate Barack Obama said the following during a Nevada campaign stop:

In Elko, Obama tried to anticipate his critics and called on the crowd of about 1,500 to sharpen their elbows, too. “I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors. I want you to talk to them whether they are independent or whether they are Republican. I want you to argue with them and get in their face,” he said.

Get in their face. This comment came after Obama referred to his grandmother as a “typical white person” who had fears about black men. Then he characterized his political opponents as “bitter clingers.” In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security put out a baseless memo regarding threats from “right-wing extremists.” To be characterized as such, you simply needed to be organizing against abortion or immigration, or in support of federalism.

In 2010 Obama refined this characterization by calling Tea Party activists “the teabag anti-government people.” His attorney general, Eric Holder, called America a “nation of cowards” on race discussions. By 2012, Obama said he would have been seen as a moderate Republican in the 1980s after winning reelection. He said this in order to contrast himself with the Republican House, led by notorious squish John Boehner. The goal was to cast the modern Republican Party as far-right.

The next four years were absolutely divisive. It seemed the Democrats were confident they had some national mandate for their ideas and were shocked when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump. By then, she had already called Trump’s supporters a “basket of deplorables,” and the media cast them as uneducated, backward, and racist.

Hillary Calls Real Americans a ‘Basket of Deplorables’

With their shock and anger, the divisive rhetoric escalated, even following a tragedy. A gunman opened fire on a congressional Republican baseball practice. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was seriously injured and in critical condition. MSDNC host Joy-Ann Reid called Scalise an “extremist” while Scalise was still in critical condition, as if to excuse the violence.

After Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was denied service at a Washington, D.C., restaurant, Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) encouraged her supporters to harass administration officials:

“Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere. We’ve got to get the children connected to their parents.”

After taking about burning down the GOP, no-longer-conservative Jennifer Rubin said President Trump’s supporters must be leveled:

“We have to level them because if there are survivors — if there are people who weather this storm, they will do it again — will take this as confirmation that, ‘Hey, it just pays to ride the wave — look at me, I’ve made it through.’ “

Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) encouraged supporters to get up in the face of Republican members of Congress:

Booker, who has been mentioned as a possible 2020 presidential election candidate, was speaking Wednesday at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, D.C.                                                                             He concluded his address by encouraging people not to be passive, and to instead “go to the Hill today.”           “Please, get up in the face of some congress people,” he said.

Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) called on liberals to fight in the streets against Trump and his supporters. Kaine’s son was arrested in antifa protests.

More recently, Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) told everyone to beware: the riots of the last three months are not going to stop now or after Election Day. Moreover, they should not. She could be the de facto leader of the free world after the election.

Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) has also called for unrest in the streets to pressure GOP officials who support the president. The other members of the Squad have also supported the rioters, going so far as to pushing a fund to provide them with bail.

Now the group behind Occupy Wall Street is calling for a 50-day “siege” on the White House. Kenosha has been destroyed, and riots have started in Chicago and Minneapolis based on inaccurate rumors of police shootings. In Portland and Seattle, rioters are marching into the suburbs.

Who Stands to Benefit? Group Behind Occupy Wall Street Plans 50-Day ‘White House Siege’

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) threw gasoline on fires that are already burning by calling Republicans enemies of the state last week.

These statements are just a sample of the dangerous rhetoric Democrat leaders have used since 2008. Perhaps this is the consequence of electing a community organizer twice. It seems to have removed all guardrails for civil political discourse from the public square.

It is no small wonder sites like Grabien have cataloged violence against Republicans and Trump supporters over the last four years. Some lists are as long as 550 incidents. Not that the SPLC will ever take notice of this left-wing hate. They prefer to classify mainstream conservative groups like the Family Research Center as extremist hate groups.

Moving through the next two months, the violence is likely to get worse instead of better. Harris’ comments may be appalling, but she seems to recognize the Democrats and their allies in the media have unleashed a beast they can’t control even if Democrats win.

(Update 11/24/2020)

Governor Whitmer cheered on the individuals who threatened the two canvassers who refused to authenticate the votes in Michigan. They temporarily signed the votes. However, after talking to President Trump they both changed their minds and rescinded the authentication. Citing that they and their family were threatened with harm. They cited that there were irregularities with 71% of Detroit’s absentee voter boards. Basically Whitmer was for hurting people that disagreed with her. We cannot tolerate this type of behavior in our elected officials. Pelosi and AOC have been speaking out in favor for this type of behavior as well.

Conclusion

What does social and psychological research tell us about the potential link between political rhetoric and violence? Can words really lead to actions? Cause and effect are hard to establish conclusively, especially in individual cases. But researchers have good circumstantial evidence from the real world as well as evidence from scientific experiments concluding, overall, that rhetoric is probably not the main cause in most attacks—but violent, hateful language can inflame people who are already inclined toward violence and focus their rage.

In a series of experiments Kalmoe conducted in 2010, he found that exposure to mildly violent political metaphors such as “fighting for our future” increased general support for political violence among people with aggressive personalities.

After participants answered personality questions about aggression,  Kalmoe randomly assigned them to read a short campaign speech that included either violent metaphors or nonviolent substitutes. Then, participants responded to questions about political threats, property damage and physical violence against leaders. Among interpersonally aggressive people, those who read the violent text had higher average political violence scores compared with those who saw nonviolent language. People with low aggressive personality scores were unaffected by language differences. In other words, aggressive people are already more likely to support political violence, and violent language makes them more so. The mild metaphors I used in these studies match well with common political language, so the explicit violent language we have heard recently could have stronger effects.

His findings are consistent with other research about how media violence primes aggressive behavior in people who are predisposed to it. What’s more, perpetrators of political violence, most of whom are men, often have histories of interpersonal violence and domestic abuse.

We also have evidence that Trump’s own words have caused audiences to behave worse in the past. In national experiments from 2016 and 2017, University of Massachusetts political scientist Brian Schaffner found that exposure to Trump’s racist comments about Mexicans during his campaign made people more likely to write offensive statements that were toward not just Mexicans but other groups. Indeed, people with prejudices toward one group often dislike other groups, suggesting that bigoted language has consequences beyond targeted groups. Furthermore, people whose racial and religious identities align with the demographics of their political party are more hostile toward partisan opponents, as Lilliana Mason, of the University of Maryland, College Park shows in her book.

Thankfully, the vast majority of Americans reject violence in politics entirely. This was the case in the 1990s and in my 2010 studies. More recently, in 2017, Mason and I fielded a national survey that found similarly low levels of support for partisan violence, even when participants reported intense partisan hostility in other questions. And even among those who hold violent views, very few act on them. Of course, as we’ve seen, even a few people can do horrible damage.

Vilification in general makes it easier to harm people without damaging one’s good self-image, a process psychologists call “moral disengagement.” Vilifying rhetoric has contributed to mass violence and even genocide when weaponized against minority groups, as in Nazi Germany, and in Rwanda and the Balkans during the 1990s. This campaign season, the president and other Republicans have praised violence against journalists, described refugees as violent monsters, and promoted cynical conspiracy theories combining anti-Semitism, racism and unfounded fears of election fraud. Political scientist Erin Cassese, of the University of Delaware, has found that partisan dehumanization is common in campaigns, too.

Of course, violent rhetoric and demonization are not new in politics. The American founders accused one other of treason in partisan newspapers. Yale historian Joanne Freeman’s recent book, Field of Blood, documents how vitriolic rhetoric between 19th-century congressmen caused dozens of brawls before the Civil War. Hyperpartisan vitriol, conspiracy-mongering and threats led directly to the war itself—the nation’s bloodiest. Extreme rhetoric also coincided with real violence in the political turmoil of the 1960s and 70s—assassinations and hundreds of bombings. More recently, we have witnessed several abortion clinic attacks, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 2017 shooting of the Republican congressional baseball team, brawls at political events, Islamist-inspired attacks and scores of violent hate crimes. The Secret Service and FBI investigate hundreds of threats against leaders each year, along with recurring assassination attempts.

What’s new is violent, demonizing rhetoric directly from a president. That’s alarming because he has the country’s loudest megaphone, which has brought extreme language and views into mainstream politics. Consider that multiple people charged with crimes, or their lawyers, have recently pointed to Trump’s words as bearing some responsibility for their own acts.

We might usefully distinguish between a general climate fueling violent hate and more detailed inspirations for violence. Both are worrisome. But naming specific individuals and groups as “enemies of the people” focuses ire on specific targets. American leaders and citizens singled out in this way have subsequently received deluges of hateful, bigoted and violent messages. It is no surprise to see the next step into physical violence against those targets, with perpetrators spouting the same rhetoric.

The president is not alone in this language. Fox News and far-right websites alternately lead the president, then follow. Other politicians either share or parrot those views. That echo chamber expands the audience and reinforces the animosity by creating the impression of party consensus against certain “enemies.” Partisan citizens generally take their opinion cues from these party leaders. True, Trump has denounced hate and violence on occasion, but he subsequently undercuts his denunciations. Heated rhetoric by Democratic leaders, while it certainly exists, comes nowhere close.

Of course, conflict is inherent in politics, and leaders have a responsibility to criticize opponents to inform the public. Anger can have a mobilizing effect and can drive desirable, nonviolent political action—even contentious protest—but it’s also the emotional fuel of aggression.

Ultimately, leaders bear responsibility for protecting the peace and upholding norms necessary for a healthy democracy. There may not be legal consequences for violent, hateful words from the nation’s highest officials—and violence against them is out of the question—but we can ensure that they face electoral consequences when they channel violent prejudices.

Resources

pjmedia.com, “FLASHBACK: Democrat Leaders Have Encouraged Political Violence, Beginning With Barack Obama,” By Stacey Lennox; politicao.com, “Yes, Political Rhetoric Can Incite Violence; People already inclined toward aggression become even more so when exposed to hostile political speech.” By Nathan Kalmoe;

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