America’s democratic legacy has allowed civil and political engagement to culture generations of Americans to respond to high-stakes issues, which have the potential to cause far-reaching damage, e.g. healthcare reform, environmental regulation, war policy, etc, with civil discourse and debate. Political figures have, however, steadily turned away from civil engagement in favor of provocative propaganda that manipulates the emotions of people to impose their political and policy agendas. By short-circuiting the debate process with emotions to push agendas, i.e. make government unresponsive, politicians risk provoking violent crimes of passion.
The targeting of the Republican Congressional Baseball Team by a gunman who shot Republican Majority Whip Steve Scalise and three others is a consequence of frustration and lost civility. Violence is a natural impulse to real and perceived threats. As most children age and develop, they are “socialized” by parents and all others around them to react to situations in violent and nonviolent ways. For families and communities that forsake violence and actively promote civility, the violence option is less likely to be the response to any given situation. When civility is forsaken by community leaders, violence is more and more likely from more and more people in more and more situations.
There will always be those who see violence as a preferred option while most see violence as a justifiable response to certain kinds of situations. When civil institutions fail to provide populations with effective ways to solve social issues and resolve conflicts, however, violence becomes a way of life. While violence plagues plenty of communities in the developed world, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East face systematic failures of social institutions that have failed to police violent elements to the point violence is part of the culture. In the Middle East, violent oppression by government and religious hardliners actually fosters a violent culture.
Although it can be said that the cultures of the Middle East have yet to develop beyond that of late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century Europe, which was plagued by cycles of perpetual war, there have been communities in countries like Afghanistan that were once as modern as most US communities. In other words, the Middle East did not simply stagnant, it also regressed. Unfortunately, the US faces a similar threat of social regression that Afghanistan faced due to the degenerative nature of the political system. US political figures may not actively and openly promote violence like the Taliban and the Islamic State do, but they do seek to divide people between hardliner positions while framing those with opposing viewpoints as “enemies.”
The political industry emotionally charges issues to lock people into their instinctive positions, which means civil discourse is no longer effective to resolve disagreements. Frustrated and often hurt by politically-stunted public policies, violence is increasingly seen as an acceptable response to an unresponsive political system that is hurting people. When politics becomes a means to preserve the status quo and prevent problems from being solved, instead of a means to solve problems, it seems little more than obstruction, which makes those within the system a target. For those willing to use violence, political obstruction can only be addressed through violent revolution.
For the most part, American society is peaceful and seeks to better society and government through civil engagement and discourse. Like all societies, however, there are plenty of others who see violence as an acceptable option. Once more and more people start to feel violence is the answer to self-serving, dysfunctional government, more and more people are more likely to engage in violence. Violent revolution can be appealing to those who have shrinking faith in civil discourse, engagement, and institutions, yet the consequence is devastation. Instead of pushing people toward violence, the political world needs to build confidence in civility before violence is seen as the best option.
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