When will the Shooting Start?

When will the Shooting Start? March 18, 2019

Have you had a chance to see this New York Times article? It concerns the degree of partisan animosity in our society. If you have not seen it then, let me share a few “highlights” from it.

Some 20 percent of Democrats (that translates to 12.6 million voters) and 16 percent of Republicans (or 7.9 million voters) do think on occasion that the country would be better off if large numbers of the opposition died. We’re not finished: “What if the opposing party wins the 2020 presidential election. How much do you feel violence would be justified then?” 18.3 percent of Democrats and 13.8 percent of Republicans said violence would be justified on a scale ranging from “a little” to “a lot.”

There was “significantly more support for partisan violence among strong partisans when told their party was more likely than not to win in 2020.”

And if you think our educated and sophisticated population will save us. Ah No.

As partisan hostility deepens, there is one group that might ordinarily be expected to help pull the electorate out of this morass — the most knowledgeable and sophisticated voters. According to a forthcoming study, however, it is just these voters who display the most uncritical acceptance of party orthodoxy, left or right. On both sides, the best informed voters are by far the most partisan.

To summarize, a significant percentage of our society wants members of the other political party to be gone – by any means necessary. Their desire for violence will rise if their party loses. Of course we are guaranteed that one of the major parties will lose the presidential election in 2020. And those who are most knowledgeable are the most partisan and most likely to buttress potential violence. My religious tradition argues that human depravity is the best way to understand the human situation. When I look at information like this, how could I not believe that this approach is correct?

I did not need this study to see how inept we have become in dealing with our political opponents. Recently Vice President Biden got in trouble from partisans. Not partisans from the right but from the left. His crime: He called Vice President Pence a decent person.

Let me stop some of you right now who are getting ready to make the silly argument of false equivalence. Take a look once again at the survey. Progressives are at least as willing to put their enemies to death as conservatives. We have a bipartisan problem, and it will not be solved if one side steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that they are playing their role in creating this atmosphere of hate. I generally find the false equivalence argument to be more representative of confirmation bias than a legitimate argument. I am especially unimpressed by it when there is survey data that contradicts that argument.

How can we start to move away from this type of toxic political environment? Of course having a President that does not fan the flames of resentment and anger would help. But as much as I would love to put the entire blame on President Trump, this problem predated his rise to power. Somewhere along the way, we forgot that the people on the other side of the political spectrum are human too. Social media has not helped. It becomes easy to use dehumanizing names such as libtard or Rethugican when we are safely typing behind a keyboard. Identity politics on the left and right also helped to create an atmosphere where we only have to be concerned about the fate of people like us. I am certain there are more sources of this type of dehumanization and tolerance of violence that are developing in our society. In time, I hope we can develop the type of research that will allow us to better understand the origin, and possible solutions to this troubling trend.

But I am not going to offer any set solutions in this current blog. More than solutions, I hope to provide a warning. And in providing this warning, hope to motivate more individuals to understand just how bad off we are. People believe that we are sophisticated enough as a society that we will not resort to violence and killing to achieve our political aims. Oh sure in the past we have not always lived up to our goals of non-violence but we have outgrown that version of America right? This is naïve thinking. It only takes a small percentage of the 18.3 percent of Democrats and 13.8 percent of Republicans who think violence is justified if they lose the election to plunge our society into some degree of chaos. And once the shooting starts, where does it end?

Thankfully we are not there yet. But the day where internal political driven domestic terrorism being an expected reality may not be that far away. We have already set up the preconditions necessary for it to occur. We have major political forces that dehumanize outgroup members to such a degree that violence is acceptable. We already see violence conducted at political rallies and have at least one death – in Charlottesville – at such rallies. Would it really be unbelievable to see more such deaths in the near future and to see such violence metastasize into a cancer that spreads throughout society?

We do not have all the answers right now. But we can take some steps away from the cliff. The key is our willingness to dehumanize our political opponents. When we dehumanize others, it becomes all too easy to then justify mistreatment of them. One of the major problems with bigotries such as racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christianophobia and Anti-Semitism is that they create caricatures that deny the humanity of people in certain groups. It sets people in those groups up for mistreatment, and yes even possible violence. We as individuals must work hard to avoid such bigotry.

I hope that it is not controversial to argue that racial, sex and religious bigotry is wrong. But this next step may be controversial. We also have to deal with political bigotry. Such bigotry seems to be the source of our rising acceptance of violence. Of course we can, and should, aggressively fight for our political ideals. But we must remember that there are real people on the other side of the political struggle. We cannot reduce them to our latest political stereotype without consequences to our own humanity. Many of them will not fit into our stereotype and even those that do fit to some degree are more complicated individuals than can be portrayed in the political image we have for them.

Of course many will complain that we should not let go of political bigotry. After all, individuals have made choices about their political ideology in ways that is not true about race and sex. So it is okay to hate them right? When did it become all right to participate in hate? Hate is what leads to the idea that violence is acceptable. Is it better that someone is beaten up for his or her political beliefs than due to his or her race? The acceptance of hate is our enemy. Until we understand that fact, then we are going to continue to work hard to find ways to justify our dehumanization of our out-groups.

Look, there are ideas that I hate. Vile ideas that I will oppose at every opportunity I get. And I understand the temptation to hate those with those ideas. But we have to learn to discern between hating ideas and hating people. We must also come to grips that it is all right to think others to be wrong without also thinking of them as evil. In fact, we have to start to think of others this way if we want to turn around the statistic quoted in the New York Time article.

Let me be clear about this. Taking an attitude that we are not going to traffic in hate is not the ultimate solution. There are too many structural, institutional factors that feed into this cycle of hate leading to dehumanization. But it is a start. It is an awareness that we do have a problem. Perhaps working against our own inclination towards hating others will further motivate us to confront other aspects of our society that feed our desire to do violence to others. If that is the start we need, then I will take it. We have to start somewhere. We cannot risk further drifting towards a society where dehumanizing our political opponents remains the social norm.

On a side note: Last week I decided to become more aggressive in policing my comment section. Provide any argument, strong or weak you want to my thesis. Do not engage in anti-Christian bigotry or unnecessary insults. Those will no longer be tolerated.

""The Church of Social Justice" ---tinysa.com/sermon/618162317354 The Church of Jesus Christ must alwaysbe vigilant against ..."

Wokeness and Legalism
"Humans are a social species and our brains are built to not rock the boat ..."

Wokeness and Legalism
"There are quite a few things woke activists could learn from Christianity1. A sense of ..."

Wokeness and Legalism
"I appreciate and thank you for your nuanced thoughts. When I taught at Elmhurst College ..."

Of Kings and Fallen Heroes

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Evangelical
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Rod Bristol

    Thank you for pointing in the right direction!

    It’s worth remembering, and re-remembering, that Jesus recruited a tax-collecting traitor (Matthew) and a passionate member of the resistance (Simon the Zealot) to the same team. We must value leaders (of any party) who bring people together instead of bullies who pander to fear and loathing.

  • Alpha 1

    The shooting has already started. On October 27 2018 a nazi, driven into a murderous frenzy by the conservative migrant caravan panic, murdered 11 Jews in Pittsburgh. Your response was to complain that “Yes, Both Sides are to Blame” because college students are mean. Instead of speculating about when the shooting will start in an attempt to equivocate between Both Sides, you should come to terms with the shooting that has already happened and the political ideology that inspired it.

    • georgeyancey

      The only reason why Steve Scalise is alive is because there happen to be security at the baseball practice. But yeah no violence on the left right? Sorry but I cannot respect the opinion of someone who has a survey showing more on the left who want political opponents dead than on the right and still sticks with the argument that it is just the conservatives. Both ideologies are inspiring the violence in our society.

      • Alpha 1

        Which side has a body count?

        • georgeyancey

          Not from lack of trying. By the way Anti-Semitism is a bi-partisan problem if you did not get the memo by now.

          • Alpha 1

            One side is trying a lot more than the other, just like how only one side is shooting up synagogues:

            New York, NY, January 23, 2019 … Right-wing extremists were linked to at least 50 extremist-related murders in the United States in 2018, making them responsible for more deaths than in any year since 1995, according to new data from the ADL.

            In its annual report on extremist-related killings in the U.S., the ADL’s Center on Extremism reported that at least 50 people were killed by extremists in 2018, including the 11 individuals killed in the fatal anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The tally represents a 35 percent increase from the 37 extremist-related murders in 2017, making 2018 the fourth-deadliest year on record for domestic extremist-related killings since 1970.

            Last year saw the highest percentage of right-wing extremist-related killings since 2012, the last year when all documented killings were by right-wing extremists.
            https://www.adl.org/news/press-releases/right-wing-extremism-linked-to-every-2018-extremist-murder-in-the-us-adl-finds

          • georgeyancey

            I question “right-wing” as defined by ADL. They are pretty leftist. But if we are going down that route I guess the left is responsible for the Muslim terrorists and can claim the deaths caused by them. Right-wing advocates call Muslim terrorists “left-wing” and Muslims have flowed to the Democratic party. That is the nature of this silly game. You can change the rules to fit your biases.
            Science about attempting to take an objective look at social situations. If you care about science and not silly arguments then you look at surveys which tell us that Democrats are just as willing to do violence as Republicans and maybe even more so. Otherwise you find biased sources and examples for liberals and my conservative friends do likewise for their side. The survey is the unbiased measure and as a social scientists that is what I will rely upon.
            But thanks for offering this silly argument without Christianophobia or personal insults. It allows me to show that I allow any attempt at arguments here, as nonsensical as the argument may be, as long as individuals attempt to be respectful.

          • Alpha 1

            On the one hand, there’s a growing pile of bodies created by a murderous, white nationalist right that shoots up synagogues and attempts to bomb mosques. On the other hand, slightly more democrats than republicans are ok with violence in one poll. I guess you’re right, and Both Sides Are To Blame.

          • Dhammarato

            While dems post their frustrations at the hate and racial bigotry they see on the right, thats all they do, post frustration, While on the right they also post, and then they get their guns out and go on killing sprees. Dem and Retards, not the same.

          • georgeyancey

            “retard”? Seriously dude I am getting tired of removing your insulting post. I will leave this up here as a reminder of what not to do. But if you cannot make an argument without engaging in anti-religious bigotry or insulting other groups then I will simply ban you. Consider this your final warning. There are plenty of other venues with no standards and you can spew this sort of garbage on them.

  • Comrade Carrot-Blog Vegetarian

    …and let’s not forget the non-partisans, who (in this political climate) are lumped in with the R’s by the D’s, and in with the D’s by the R’s. After all, if you disagree with us on anything, so the logic goes, you’re indistinguishable from someone who disagrees with us on everything.

    So. as bad as it is that EITHER 20% or 16% of the opposing group thinks this place would be better off with you dead

    it’s even worse to be a member of neither group, and therefore, the target of both the 20% AND the 16.

  • Dhammarato

    The republican party has already dehumanized the christian right as well as the right-wing racist gun nuts. Being now non human, it is ok to start killing them, but wait. A better idea: get out you guns and blow out the tires of every grandpa and grandma on the road, steal their ID, so they cant vote, and steal their guns to use for the next tire blowouts. Dem will win when granmps don’t vote.

  • billwald

    Talk is cheap. Americas are happiest when complaining. Even our poor people are richer than most “middle class” people in the rest of the world. Only insane people want to upset the apple cart.

  • Alan Drake

    You assume that violence is the way to reduce the other sides numbers. That is simply not so – or even the most effective way.

    My own personal estimate is that, due to death & senilty -not violence – 8% of Trump’s 2016 voters will not be able to vote in 2020. New voters, those turning 18 & new citizens, will not replace more than a few of them.

    Add the impact of expanding the franchise in Florida & HR 1 > voting rights & reducing gerrymandering. Longer term, statehood for Puerto Rico & Columbia. Four more Senators & four more Representative, all very likely D. All very non-violent AND just !

    I question the wisdom of lowering the voting age to 16 (17 max in my opinion) but this is certainly not violence.

    I do support ending Welfare for Farmers, the most undeserving Welfare category. They have gotten a trillion dollars and will never, ever get off welfare unless they are kicked off. End federal crop insurance, price supports, conservation & infrastructure grants to farmers. That is not violent.

    I have heard others advocate (not me) ending the premium payments to the more expensive, low quality, inefficient small rural hospitals. Let them drive further to lower cost, higher quality hospitals in nearby cities. That is not overtly violent.

    I do support more urban rail and associated high density walkable & bikeable neighborhoods. Studies have shown that just living in such humane places creates more social conscienceness. a good thing that also shifts votes R > D (see Democrats elected to House seats in Salt Lake City & Oklahoma City).

    Resorting to violence to wipe out the other side is a feature of the Right.

    The most “violent” hypothetical I have heard from the left is to just cut opioid treatment in rural and small towns & states that have chosen to not expand Medicaid but expand opioid treatment to Native Americans on reservations. Concentrate resources for treating opioids to cities.

    • georgeyancey

      True. There are non-violent ways to reduce the number of one’s political out-group and both sides try to use such techniques. But the survey was about violence. My concern is about the number of people willing to use violence.

      • Alan Drake

        I believe that is just a Right Wing thing. See who did extremist violence in 2018 (dominanted by White Supremists) and that was with their man in the White House. Put a woman of color in & they might just explode even more.

        But I truly believe this is not a “both sides” issue.

        • georgeyancey

          Science as done in the survey disputes your interpretation. Sorry I have no respect for the false equivalence argument in light of evidence to the contrary. I can find you plenty of times where progressives engaged in violence (and not just Antifa). Breibart, for all its faults have documented hundreds of attacks. You can besmirch Breibart but they provide plenty of links to support their contention. Speakers on the right have been assaulted by leftist protestors. How many times do we have to see videos of Trump supporters being assaulted? it is all out there if you want to see the truth for yourself. Beyond the shooting of Scalise at least three Republican legislators in Minnesota and Nevada where physically assaulted during this past election cycle. I don’t remember their names but I can easily look them up in necessary. By the way there were not just shouted down but were physically attacked and I believe one was a woman. Take all this with the survey then you can see how us non-leftist do not believe the myth that violence is only on the right. This is not just about considering bad policies. If in the light of all the evidence out there you still believe that this is only a problem on the right then I am force to conclude that this is an example of confirmation bias.

  • fractal

    It’s “Rethuglican”, not “Rethugican”.