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The Normalization of Political Violence: The Roman Republic and the United States

Author, poet, attorney and photographer. Former collegiate football player. Graduated summa cum laude, Phil Beta Kappa.

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The events of June 6, 2021 will undoubtedly be recorded as possibly the most shameful display in modern American political history. Following an extremely bitter and highly-contested election, President Trump called on his supporters to flood the capital in what was designated as the “stop the steal” protest. Over one-hundred thousand of his most loyal constituents answered his request, flooding Washington D. C. on the day the federal legislature was set to confirm Joe Biden as his successor. The President greeted his followers with a fiery oration, telling them to march on the congressional structure. Unfortunately, a small segment of protest, approximately a few hundred or so, took this opportunity to charge into Capital building itself.

What transpired shocked the conscious. Capital police attempted to the keep the horde at bay, employing the use of pepper spray and tear gas. However, law enforcement was clearly undermanned and soon rioters busted through their overwhelmed ranks. The certification proceedings were halted as lawmakers were evacuated. Congressional offices were ransacked, with some posing for pictures while looters carried off souvenirs. Reinforcements were quickly brought in, with Trump himself calling in the national guard. When all was said and done, there were numerous injuries along with several deaths including of a female Trump supporter and an officer.

As far as riots go, the D. C. one was not as calamitous as it potentially could have been considering that unused Molotov cocktails were discovered near the premises. And with regards this incident’s scale and duration, it was nowhere near that of last summer’s riots, which unleashed unprecedented destruction and chaos upon cities nationwide. Indeed, it took law enforcement little time to clear out the crowd and for Congress to get back to business once additional forces were mustered.

Nevertheless, from a psychological standpoint, it was devastating. Watching in real time as the heart of the world’s oldest and most successful democracy was defiled by some of its own citizens was traumatic. I can only imagine it was quite the spectacle for those abroad to see chaos erupt in the nation which once proudly enunciated its American exceptionalism—the notion that the United States was more than just a country, but an ideal; a ‘city on hill’; a shining beacon for those weary souls across the world who so desperately longed for freedom. No doubt ISIS members were also kicking themselves when they realized how easily the capital could have been subdued.

For me personally, one moment stood out above all others. This was when a man dressed as a barbarian, triumphantly posed in front of the speaker’s podium while several of his comrades snapped pictures. This now infamous image was reminiscent of paintings depicting the Germanic invaders sacking Rome, an occurrence which toppled the great bastion of civilization and plunged Western Europe into the Dark Ages. And it was upon witnessing such a hideous display, along with the responses from so many on social media, that I decided to write this.

Whenever such a cataclysmic incident transpires, it’s often difficult in the moment to discern why it occurred and what it’s greater impact will be. This is partially true because hindsight is always twenty/twenty. In other words, as we don’t have access to all the facts and we can’t gage the influence they will have going forward. But it’s also due to another, more cynical facet. Because this ordeal was political in nature, politicians and media pundits were quick to distort and misinterpret it for partisan reasons. This is not to say there was not almost universal condemnation of the happening. However, certain elements took the opportunity to highlight particular aspects of this event in order to confirm certain preconceived biases and push their agendas. Coupled with America’s current state of hyperpolarization, it’s exceedingly arduous to cut out all the noise and make a sound assessment.

Thus, my goal here is not point fingers or assign blame. It’s rather to take a step back; to parse through the partisan banter in order to uncover why this happened. In other words, to think like a historian by deciphering these circumstances and transcribing them through a more comprehensible prism. I will do this by examining another prior similarly situated political entity, the Roman Republic. Particularly, I will focus on what has been termed the Late Republic (133-31 B. C.), right before its collapse and conversion into an Empire.

Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of historical comparisons as they’re often made between two situations which, while similar from a bird’s eye view, practically speaking share very little in common. You see this done by politicians, who will frequently and improperly utilize this tactic. Thus, comparing the Roman Republic and United States, two civilizations separated by over a millennium, which possess very different cultures, ideals and ways of life, may appear fruitless. Nonetheless, this examination is worthwhile because although circumstances, technology and modes of thinking are always influx, human nature remains constant. The brains which currently inhabits our skulls are the same ones which were present within all peoples since even before recorded history: from the Aztecs to the Babylonians, from twelfth century Mongolians to the Enlightenment era Europeans.

Hence, studying how our forebears interacted and adjusted based on similar circumstances can provide us with valuable insight on where things are headed. As the Roman historian Livy observed,

"The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see: and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings: fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid."

Brining us to the present issue, I believe what we are currently viewing in modern American life is a trend towards the normalization of political violence. It’s certainly not the only contributing factor, as there are numerous facets to this underlying discontent which is now seemingly invading every corner of our economic, cultural and political institutions. However, the legitimization of domestic violence as a tool of achieving social and political ends poses what is the gravest threat to the Republic’s survival. Moreover, I argue that unless something is done to change these circumstances, these sorts of incidents will occur with only more frequency and increased veracity, leading to a level of sectarian violence not seen in this country since the American Civil War. Finally, I’ll present ways in which we can calm the tensions before things reach the point of no return.

The Late Roman Republic and the Normalization of Political Violence

It would take a full-length volume to adequately discuss all the complexities surrounding Roman Republic’s collapse. As such, what follows will only be a brief overview of how violence permeated the Roman system and led to its ultimate downfall.

Like the United States, which started as a weak confederation of former colonies, Rome had humble beginnings. Founded as a minor city state on the Tiber River, by the end of the second century B. C. it had grown to become the known world’s predominant and unrivalled power. Yet, things were not going great internally.

As professor Gregory S. Aldrete notes in his Great Courses lecture The Rise of Rome, despite its unmatched prowess, pretty much every segment of Roman society was unhappy. Although its territorial conquests had bought the Republic much in term of land and riches, these spoils were distributed unevenly. From a civilization whose origins were based on a series of small family farms, land was now concentrated in the hands of just a few. Wealth inequality thus spiked as the divide between the elites and the commoners grew. But this bitterness did not extend to just the lower classes, as many of Rome’s nobles were felt spited by the fact that its most prestigious political offices were now being monopolized by a few select families. Rome’s Italian allies, who had fought loyally by the Republic’s side during its many expansionist wars, felt affronted by the fact that they had yet to be rewarded with Roman citizenship. Finally, Roman conquests meant a large influx of slaves who were unhappy because, well…they were slaves.

These underlying tensions and resentments continued to fester through the first century B. C. Rome’s republican institutions, once acclaimed by the Greek philosopher Polybius as being the best of their time due to their unique hybrid nature and separation of powers, were now under heavy strain. Noticing that the Republic was unravelling, two prominent Roman brothers, Tiberius Gracchus, and Gaius Gracchus, otherwise known as the “Gracchi Brothers,” attempted to force through various wide-ranging reforms. To make a long story short, Tiberius was elected by the commoners to become one of the “Tribunes to the Plebeians.” Upon assuming office, he attempted to implement a land redistribution without consultation from the Senate, which contained Rome’s aristocracy.

Both sides went back and forth in their attempts to undermine one another, utilizing procedures which, though technically legal, had never before been employed via Roman statecraft. For instance, Tiberius employed the unprecedented move of having a fellow Tribune loyal to the Senate removed through what was essentially a vote of no confidence. But in 133 B. C., things were taken a whole new and dangerous level. At an assembly for tributary elections, numerous Senators and their followers broke apart their wooden benches and, in a fit of unbridled rage, beat to death Tiberius and close to three hundred of his supporters. This was an astounding development, as Rome’s premier politicians were now publicly murdering each other.

A decade later, Tiberius’s younger brother Gaius would attempt similar reforms only to face an even more hostile reaction, with the Senate passing a decree which empowered the magistrates to use any force necessary against anyone if they felt such a person endangered the Roman state. The implicit message signaled with this decree was that it was now open season on Gaius and his cohorts. Out of options, Gaius committed suicide, after which he was decapitated. His severed head was then brought to the Senate.

The significance of these events cannot be overstated. The slaughter of the Gracchi Brothers initiated a precarious state of affairs. As Professor Aldrete observed, “A very destructive paradigm had been established. For violence as an acceptable part of politics, a trend that would continue to grow worse.” This was made all the more troublesome by the fact that these killings did nothing to alleviate any of the Republic’s existing problems. On the contrary, it only exacerbated them. For the animosity between Rome’s factions only continued to intensify, being harnessed into two competing groups: the Optimates and the Populares, the latter more inclined towards the commoners while the former encompassed the conservative elites.

In the past, such disagreements, though heated, were ultimately resolved via Rome’s previously resilient institutional structure. But as Niccolò Machiavelli surmised in his work Discourses on Livy, simple divergencies in opinion morphed into pure hatred for the opposition. This odium, Machiavelli contended, had the effect of not only further tearing the Republic apart, but of leading to the rise of unscrupulous politicians. These statesmen would use their membership within these factions to stir up popular antipathy in order to advance their own careers, becoming avatars for their factions’ discontent. And while these politicians jostled for power, their respective followers would battle it out in the streets, like football hooligans fighting for their respective clubs.

One of the first and most significant of these officials was a man named Marius, who rose to prominence from modest beginnings and represented the Populares. The Optimate elite responded by choosing their own champion, a former subordinate of Marius named Sulla. Sulla would eventually end up setting the pernicious precedent of marching his army on Rome. Proclaiming himself dictator (which was a legal Roman office at the time), he enacted a series of “prescriptions”, posted notice which listed Romans who had been declared outlaws. Not only did this mean their property would be confiscated, but rewards would be distributed to anyone who deposed of them. In other words, they could be murdered without consequence as if it was an ancient version The Purge.

But the conflict between Marius and Sulla would only be the first in a series of contests between strongmen. It would soon be followed by the now famous and bloody Roman Civil Wars, which lasted for decades, as warlords like Julius Caesar and Pompey, then Marc Antony and Augustus, engaged in hostilities across the vast Republic. It was only until 31 B. C., when stability would once again be brought to the Roman world. However, the price for such normalcy meant a transition from Rome as a Republic to an Empire.

The United States and the Normalization of Political Violence

As alluded to previously, the situation surrounding the late Roman Republic is different in many ways from the one currently being undergone by the United States. Nonetheless, the facet of this which is eerily similar is the fact that, like with Rome, political violence has become normalized in the Untied States. The following will be a timeline of events with particular emphasis on 2020, as last year is when I believe a particular shift in mentally occurred.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll only start from the start of last decade. I could perhaps go back further, but I’m not trying to turn this into a full-length thesis. Finally, I will not be discussing the specific sparks which led to these outbursts for two reasons. First, I’m assuming the reader knows what these are already, such as say the death of George Floyd. Second, the immediate causes of these upheavals are not essential to the analysis here, as they writing is designed only to deal with the greater, long-term effects such disturbances will possibly have.

Although the United States is arguably the world’s oldest and most stable democracy, that does mean its history had not been without its significant share of strife. America was sprung forth from the caldron of revolution, giving it a unique foundation and spirit as compared to its European cousins. Events such as Shays’ Rebellion, the Haymarket Affair, the Chicago riots of 1919 and 1968 are examples of this. The deadliest and most consequential of these was the American Civil War, which is to this day the bloodiest and most destructive conflict the nation has ever endured. Hence, the United States has had its share volatility and civil discontent. These episodes usually come in cycles; widespread disgruntlement followed by periods of relative calm.

The last decade (2010-2019) saw this turbulence slowly buildup. Riots in Ferguson, Missouri and Milwaukee coupled with a Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist’s shooting of Dallas police officers were some events which come to mind. A particularly gruesome scene occurred on June 17, 2015 when a white supremacist terrorist shot up a South Carolinian black church. By 2017, Donald Trump replaced Barack Obama as president. Trump’s election was controversial, with many even believing he was not legitimately elected.

The national mood continued to deteriorate. On June of that year, a gunman attacked a Republican congressional baseball practice due to his anger over healthcare. One GOP congressman was shot, but fortunately survived. A few months later, a white supremacist rally occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. Protesters and counter protesters faced off, eventually leading to one from the latter group being murdered after she was run over with a car. Following this, a group called Antifa began to step up their activities, particularly in the city of Portland, where they were largely allowed run roughshod. A particularly memorable occurrence was when journalist Andy Ngo was brutally beaten by a cadre of them. Eventually, right wing groups such as the Proud Boys would show up to Antifa hotspots to either protect conservative speakers/activists or to just brawl. This would lead to sizable streets melees, in which weapons like bike locks were sometimes utilized.

These occurrences, though bad, were generally few and far between. There would be the occasional plots, such the lunatic who tried to send bombs to Joe Biden, George Soros, Hillary Clinton and other left leaning figures or the crazed zealot who attempted to firebomb an ICE facility. Yet, most of these relatively unsuccessful. Moreover, few, if any, Americans supported violence, whether it was rioting or domestic terrorism.

This all changed during the summer of 2020, when millions of protestors took to the streets. Unfortunately, a good number of these protests quickly devolved into riots and countless American urban centers burned. What was shocking was not just the scale and destructiveness of this riots, but the numbers of Americans who cheered them on and encouraged them, from prominent media figures to everyday people via their social media outlets. Why this shift? Perhaps it was the release pent up stress and angst from the pandemic, accompanied by the lockdowns and complete overhaul of the economy. But whatever the reason, it was clear a major alteration in thinking had occurred.

For instance, Colin Kaepernick tweeted “When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction. The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on death ears, because your violence has brought this resistance. We have the right to fight back!” Many articles by mainstream outlets gave their tacit approval for times. “Maybe That Police Station Shouldn’t Have Broken the Law” wrote one article which displayed a picture of a burning Minneapolis police precinct.

CNN’s Chris Cuomo said on this program “Show me where it says protests are supposed to be polite and peaceful.” Sarah Parack, an archeologist, released a long Twitter thread, complete with diagrams depicting how demonstrators could topple the “racist” Washington Monument. Former NBA reporter Chris Palmer tweeted along with a picture of a burning building, “But it down that shit down. But it all down.” He was later mocked for abruptly switching tunes after he discovered that rioters attacked a community near his. “Get these animal TF out of my neighborhood. Go back to where you live.”

Among my social media acquittances, a meme made the rounds depicting rioters in front of a smoldering Minneapolis police station, which read “Someone asked me what will burning down a city do to solve the issue. My answer is that it will do the same thing dumping a chest of tea into the ocean because u no longer want to be taxed…It’s a rebellion act to show we will go longer go for the shit. I love this picture & I’m so proud of this generation.” Someone else I follow, who ironically is from a wealthy family, posted “Please do not use word like ‘policeman’ or ‘policewoman.’ Use gender neutral terms like ‘tool of the bourgeoise’ and ‘enemy of the people.’”

Various municipalities permitted insurrectionists to essentially have their way. The city of Portland, for instance, allowed them to besiege a federal courthouse for months. They not only caused damage to the building, but went so far as to shine lasers in federal officer’s eyes, causing serious and permanent damage. Frequent rioting would continue to plague the city for months on end. In Seattle, a police precinct was ransacked, followed by the created an autonomous zone, the CHAZ or later the CHAD. This new pseudo-state was only shutdown after CHAD’s security forces shot two unarmed teenagers. Across the country, Washington D. C. erupted. Aerial photos taken during that moment show the nation’s capital on fire, as if it was reenacting the British sack during the War of 1812.

And so, the rioting continued. Statues, even of characters such as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas, were torn down. Businesses were demolished, with apologists repugnantly excusing such decimation because they were probably “insured.” In certain instances, bystanders were surrounded and forced to utter woke slogans like they were being forced to absolves themselves of their original sin. And, of course, numerous people were either injured or killed. The riots’ effects lingered even months after many of them had winded down. This was largely due to apprehension concerning the upcoming election, as major cities began to board up in preparation for additional unrest.

I was so distraught by the mass enthusiasm for and permissiveness of these riots that I eventually posted a Facebook status criticizing not only the moral deficiency of such a position, but the short-sidedness of it. I warned that it would not be long before other factions responded in kind, creating a cycle of escalation which would eventually lead to widescale instability or perchance another civil war. But unlike the last one, there would be no set Mason-Dixon line boundaries:

"I’m not talking about two trained armies facing off style civil war. But Purge like, no-holds-barred, sectarian violence. Whether you’re rural or urban, suburban or city dwelling, such turmoil would directly affect you. Because unlike our nation’s prior engagements, which were fought on distant shores, this is the type of conflict that will, eventually make its way to your doorstep."

Thus, it would be a diffuse internal conflict—numerous factions and no set borders, with the central government in the middle, unable to enforce law or maintain control. Something akin to the modern day struggles in Syria and Libya.

And at the expense of proclaiming “I told you so”, it turns out I was right. Because like with the Roman Republic two-thousand years ago, once political violence becomes legitimized as a tool for pushing forward or changing policy, it won’t be long until your opposition responds in kind. In other words, violence breeds more violence. And once Pandora’s Box has been opened, unless there is a serious attempt at de-escalation, the conflict will only intensify.

An example I like to use is deals with World War I, when the German army developed a novel tactic known as chemical warfare. These new weapons were initially remarkably successful. However, it was not long before the British and French developed their own agents and unleashed them right back.

Or to use what is perhaps a more pertinent illustration is that of Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Moore as depicted in the play A Man for All Seasons. In one scene, William Roper is trying to convince Thomas Moore, who held a position of power, to use his authority to prosecute a man who planned to testify against the Lord Chancellor. Even though it could mean Moore’s execution, he refused since the man had broken no laws. It led to the following exchange:

“William Roper: “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”

Sir Thomas More: “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”

William Roper: “Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!”

Sir Thomas More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!”

This scene brilliantly demonstrates is that once norms and the rule of law are done away with in order to achieve a desired outcome, the one who broke such decrees is now open to similar attacks. Furthermore, the entire system which maintains order and stability is delegitimized, with chaos ensuing in its in wake. This is especially true when government authorities are either unwilling or unable to enforce law and order.

The Italian Peninsula would interesting experience such a quandary again, many centuries after the Roman state’s dissolution, when in the 1920s, communists and socialists provoked a series strike and riots across the country. The national government’s ineptness in dealing with crisis caused bands of WWI veterans, affiliated with a new party called the Fascists, to take matters into their own hands. They engaged in street clashes with the leftists. Their suppression of the Communists ultimately led to Fascists’ legitimization, propelling them to national prominence.

Therefore, when political violence is sanctioned, it will inevitably have dire repercussions. It undermines law and order, leading to greater instability and the rise of more extremist groups. Moreover, it generates more barbarity, as it sets the precedent for rival factions to engage in this brutal tactic. For in the end, political violence is cyclical in natural. It’s what Maximilian Robespierre learned the hard way. You can utilize the guillotine to dispose of your opponents and achieve your aims, but don’t be surprised when eventually your head on the chopping block.

What Can Be Done?

I wish I could say that the Capitol Hill Riot was the last time we’d see this sort of political violence. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this is the case. There may have been a point where this could have been a wakeup call. Since the vast majority of Americans left, right and center were horrified by this event, this unfortunate set of circumstances could have brought the country back to together. Alas, the division and animosity has only deepened. For even when Trump leaves office, I expect that this will continue.

On the left side of aisle, numerous politicians, media personalities and regular citizens have imputed responsibility for the insurrection on the 75 million or so people who voted for Trump, claiming they essentially “should have known” this would happen. CNN’s Don Lemon summed this position up on January 13, when he commented that Trump voters were on the side of Klansmen, Nazis and Capitol rioters. It’s a resentment which has existed ever since Trump was elected and has only become more acute, with Trump voters morphing in minds of many from simply being useful idiots to guilty of enabling evil.

For the right, they feel as if they’re looked down upon and vilified, often subjected to double standards with regards to how they should or shouldn’t behave. This is coupled with the fact that a sizeable portion believe the election was stolen either due to voter fraud and/or the dodgy behavior of big tech and the media. Moreover, many of the economic and cultural issues which led to Trump’s election have either not been rectified or have been exacerbated. All this taken in unison, along with being blamed for this most recent riot, means the powder keg has hit critical mass. . As one recently arrested Capitol Hill insurrectionists ominously stated, “CNN and the Left are just mad because we actually attacked the government who is the problem and not some random small business...The right IN ONE DAY took the fucking U.S. Capitol. Keep poking us.” In fact, as I write this, the FBI is warning that rightwing militias may be planning nationwide attacks on Inauguration Day.

The issue now becomes whether or not we can reverse these dangerous circumstances. The following are three ways in which this could be accomplished. First, we have to start calling out rioting and political violence even when its being conducted by people we totally or somewhat identify with ideologically. One of the things I found most astounding about the Capital Hill Riot is that many of the same people who condoned the summer insurrections, came out strong against the Trump supporters’ incursion. They tried to get around this double standard through games of mental gymnastics, claiming these were different because the capital police took it easy on these rioters. Moreover, they argued that their side’s insurrectionists were more morally justified. But even if we were to accept the foregoing as being accurate and legitimate, such attempts at differentiation are irrelevant. This is because they don’t change the simple fact that political violence is political violence. This is true regardless of whether it’s large scale or small scale, leftwing or rightwing.

Hence, if you’re a Republican or Trump supporter, you should condemn violence when its committed by your side. However, if you’re a racial or social justice activist, you must follow suit when it’s members of your doctrinal persuasion committing vicious acts. There can’t be any more justifications for this. No more arguing in the form of ‘Whataboutisms,’ pointing at the other side and yelling “But he did this” like petulant children. The consensus needs to be clear—this behavior is not acceptable.

Second, media personalities and politicians should tone down their rhetoric. Incendiary journalism has always existed. Yet, it’s only gotten worse these past few decades. The expanding bombastic nature of the current media apparatus may be partially due to the fact that there exists a saturation of content. Thus, reporters and commentators must distinguish themselves via their keen observations or contentious oratory. And in this arms race of acquiring viewer ships, clicks and likes, contentious personalities spew their ideas. One only need to view the unhinged rants of Keith Oldbermann to get a feel for this or read tweets from Reza Asland, who after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, wrote “If they even TRY to replace RBG we burn the entire fucking thing down.”

But more important is the behavior of our elected officials. The tendency to engage in apocalyptic politics i. e. your life depends on a particular electoral result, has always existed. Lyndon B. Johnson employed this tactic during his 1964 presidential bid against Barry Goldwater, with commercials depicting a ruined, post-nuclear war United States. This imbedded within voters that notion that Goldwater would plunge the country into World War III, an effective tactic considering the memory of the Cuban Missile Crisis was still fresh in everyone’s minds. But this sort of politics has increased drastically. I know this because every election since 2004 has been dubbed “the most important election in American history.”

Although this rhetoric has not incited violence, it has certainly turned up the heat. For instance, the congressional baseball shooter was a Bernie Sanders supporter, who went after Republicans after constantly hearing the Vermont Senator accuse the GOP of trying to kill people through Obamacare’s dismantlement. Along these same lines are other disturbing pronouncements, such as Congresswoman Maxine Water’s calls to harass Trump cabinet 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."

There also exists a tendency now to frame the opposition as not just wrong, but effectively malevolent. Take Hillary Clinton’s 2018 statement “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.”

Going back to the Rome comparisons, we have not yet reached the point in which politicians are physically attacking each other. We’re still for away from anything akin to Preston Brooks’ caning Charles Sumner. Furthermore, no politician has as of yet called for or incited violence. With regards to the congressional baseball shooting, Sanders’ statements may have been incendiary, but they were not incitement, for he never called for anyone to commit “imminent lawless action” Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969). The same is true for President Trump. Though he certainly raised the temperature, he never told his followers to storm the capital or to commit violence and destruction. Hence, just because a politician didn’t incite violence, doesn’t mean the language itself doesn’t increase tensions.

Finally, and I’d argue most importantly, the country’s social fabric must be re-mended. When I say the “social fabric”, I mean the thing which maintains cements national cohesion. This has been the major internal crisis of the past few decades. Why this trend occurred is something which won’t be addressed here. What’s important is how many Americans interact with and view their fellow citizens has shifted considerably. This particularly true with regards to how they perceive those on the other side of the aisle. The metamorphosis from “this is someone I disagree with” to “this person is evil” has infected the psyches of a considerable number of Americans.

The problem with this is once you see your opposition as malevolent, it dehumanizes them. Furthermore, it gives credence to the concept that any ends, even normally illicit ones, justify the means. And why wouldn’t they? If you are fighting say modern day versions of Hitler and his Nazis, shouldn’t you take any necessary steps to stop them? What is often unappreciated is that the vast majority of history’s worst atrocities were conducted under the guise of righteousness. The Spanish Inquisition was certain that they were doing God’s work. The Russian and Chinese Communists were convinced that terror and repression were necessary evils in order to reach utopia. Because they were on the “right side of history,” any nefarious actions they used in the present would be vindicated by the glorious future they brought about.

I’m not trying to claim that any American who maintain this mode of thinking is as morally compromised as a fundamentalist theocrat or radical Marxist. However, they ultimately share this same primordial, tribal mentality. It’s this type of mindset that legitimizes any sort of horror, not the least of which is domestic terrorism and political violence.

Conclusion

At what point is it too late to reverse the course of an oncoming historical calamity? Professor Aldrete asks a similar question with regards to the Roman Republic, wondering if there was a point at which the tottering state could have avoided collapse. It must be remembered that the American Civil War did not occur out of nowhere. It was the cumulation of a long series of tensions and affair dating back to American independence. Nat Turner’s Rebellion, Bleeding Kanas, John Brown’s rain on Harpers Ferry, the caning of Charles Sumner, all were just a series of related and semi-related happening which contributed to the most cataclysmic this country has ever experienced. Similarly, events which occur today will have far-reaching effects on the future.

There are some commentators who think we’ve reached the point of no return; that the nation’s descension into strife and eventual dissolution is now all but inevitable. I do not believe this to be the case. We have let to reach what I would the “spark,” the particular instance in which all these built-up tensions are finally ignited, like a steadily overflowing fireworks warehouse exploding all at once. We have yet to witness anything akin to a Fort Sumter, Franz Ferdinand assassination or an assault on the Gracchi brothers. However, such a moment may certainly be on the horizon and when it occurs, there will be no turning back

I’ll end by noting that I sincerely believe most Americans are not for political violence, whether it’s being conducted under the banner of BLM, Antifa, or MAGA. As Barstool Sport founder Dave Portnoy wrote “95% of people in this country are normal. The extreme right sucks and extreme left suck. Both sides filled with lunatics, crazies and morons.” Personally, I think it’s closer to 99%. But if history teaches us anything, it’s that a determined and aggressive ideological minority can wreak tremendous havoc. This is why it’s so important to not allow their preferred method of political violence to become mainstream.

© 2021 RMS Thornton

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