With all the vitriol and rancor in the country these days, no one should be surprised by a recent survey indicating about 20% of people believe political violence is justified in some situations.
That’s one of the sobering conclusions recently released among findings from researchers with the University of California, Davis. They sought opinions from some 9,000 people across the country. About 3% said political violence is always justified.
To anyone paying careful attention to the nation’s downward trajectory the past two decades, this will hardly be the stuff of revelation, but it should be a wake-up call. For at least 20 years and probably longer, America’s temperature has been rising as a steady erosion of once-unassailable institutions has continued unabated.
Pick an institution, and it is virtually certain to have a whiff of scandal attached to it. People no longer are as quick to trust these large institutions as they once were. In some cases, this is probably justified. The last few years have amplified and accelerated this distrust. Almost every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic has produced chaos and controversy from those who say the entire episode has been “fake” to those who believe we should still be in lockdown until the virus is eradicated.
Repercussions and conspiracy theories continue more than 18 months after the 2020 presidential election with people continuing to insist the election was stolen despite mountains of copious evidence to the contrary. Their answer: That’s just part of the cover-up.
The two major political parties have practically become ideological opposites in the eyes of many, but beyond that there is little to no appetite for anything bipartisan. Anyone who reaches across the aisle, especially on a hot-button issue, can expect not appreciation but vilification for their efforts. In some ways, we are now living in an era where “compromise” has become a synonym for “treason.”
Is it any wonder that people are worried about the direction of the country? Just more than 50% of those surveyed think another civil war is possible in the next few years. Say what you want about Jan. 6, 2021, but it was an awful look at what can happen when throngs of true believers are moved to the point of physical violence.
The findings of this survey indicate the Capitol riots could be a blip on the radar compared to what might happen going forward in a country where sizable swaths of the population are experiencing varying degrees of bitterness and anger.
Consider a couple of other findings from the survey: About 25% said violence would be justified “to preserve an American way of life based on western European traditions” while 7% said they would be willing to kill a person “to advance an important political goal.” These conclusions are from a report on the survey by the Guardian publication.
“The prospect of large-scale violence in the near future is entirely plausible,” the scientists said in the Guardian’s report.
That should really get people’s attention. Large-scale violence? Willing to kill? Has civility become so unreachable these days that violence is the default position? Are people just more honest about their feelings these days? Or has this number been pretty steady throughout recent history?
Those questions can just float out there for a bit. The fear is we no longer seem willing to sit down and talk about finding solutions. Neither side wants to come to the table. Neither side is willing to give an inch. Neither side will genuinely try to understand the other side’s position.
Sadly, people are still subscribing to baseless conspiracy theories, such as some of the stuff the QAnon group puts forth or the so-called great replacement theory. Neither gets oxygen here. There is plenty of related material elsewhere.
There is some good news embedded in the survey. Almost 90% of those surveyed said it is very or extremely important that the United States remain a democracy. Bravo. Let’s hope that is always a prevailing sentiment in this great country where generations of people have gone to war to fight for the freedom and liberty we enjoy.
Of course, another finding didn’t exactly line up with preserving democracy. The survey results indicated 42% of respondents said, “having a strong leader for America is more important than having a democracy.”
Uh, wait a minute. Wouldn’t it be possible to have both? In recent times, there have been some put forth the idea that perhaps America should have one strong national leader with ultimate authority. The word “king” comes to mind, but it is accompanied by negative connotations. The democracy works because authority is vested in three distinct branches of government with the ability to check and balance each other’s power. It may not be perfect in all situations, but it is better than the alternatives.
That said, it is possible to have a democracy led by a strong president. The president projects strength through the way they lead the nation in times of crisis (not by the number of executive orders signed; both parties guilty here). That strength in turn should inspire confidence in the public. A strong president, at least from this point of view, is critical to a healthy democracy.
These days, no one has to look far to find palpable anger. Social media is filled with everything from simple rants to complicated manifestos. What were once simple disagreements in a parking lot or check-out line now escalate into outright violence. People are literally seething over their station in life or their perception of why the world is out of kilter. Too often, the anger moves from words to actions … and tragedy.
There is no simple answer to this, and sadly, if the divisions deepen and temperatures continue to rise, we could have something terrible happen in this country that would change it forever.
Let’s hope that never happens … for the sake of generations to come.
Doug Hensley is associate regional editor and director of commentary for the Globe-News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org