Americans Increasingly Believe Violence is Justified if the Other Side Wins

Americans Increasingly Believe Violence is Justified if the Other Side Wins, by Larry Diamond (Hoover Institution), Lee Drutman (New America), Tod Lindberg (Hudson Institute), Nathan Kalmoe (associate professor of political communication at Louisiana State University, Lilliana Mason (associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland).

Our data shows that the willingness of Democrats and Republicans alike to justify violence as a way to achieve political goals has essentially been rising in lockstep. …

  • Among Americans who identify as Democrat or Republican, 1 in 3 now believe that violence could be justified to advance their parties’ political goals — a substantial increase over the last three years.
  • In September, 44 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats said there would be at least “a little” justification for violence if the other party’s nominee wins the election. Those figures are both up from June, when 35 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of Democrats expressed the same sentiment. …
  • The share of Republicans seeing substantial justification for violence if their side loses jumped from 15 percent in June to 20 percent in September, while the share of Democrats jumped from 16 percent to 19 percent. …

All together, about 1 in 5 Americans with a strong political affiliation say they are quite willing to endorse violence if the other party wins the presidency.

How seriously should we take these expressions of violence? Both history and social psychology warn us to take them very seriously.

In Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, a rising tide of armed street mobilization and of violent clashes between rival partisans ravaged fragile democratic cultures, bullied and marginalized moderate forces, and gave rising autocrats an excuse to seize emergency powers. …

Democrats have interpreted Trump’s remarks and tweets as legitimizing or even encouraging violence by his supporters — fears only intensified by the president’s comments during this week’s debate urging the Proud Boys, a misogynistic white supremacist group that has been active in recent street protests, to “stand back and stand by.”

Republicans, for their part, interpreted Joe Biden’s rhetorical question in a recent speech, “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected?” as a veiled threat of violence should Biden lose.

No lesson in the study of democratic breakdowns rings more clearly than that political leaders play the central role in fanning — or containing — political polarization and extremism. From Germany and Italy in interwar Europe to Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, the rhetoric and tactics of leading politicians shaped the fate of democracies in crisis. …

However, we fear we are now headed into such a severe downward spiral of partisan polarization that we cannot rely on the candidates and campaigns to pull us out of it.

In this context, any one of several possible scenarios risks triggering unprecedented post-election violence.

Biden could surge from behind on Election Night to win on the strength of mail-in ballots that President Trump has already dismissed as fraud-ridden, prompting Trump’s supporters to feel the election was stolen from him. Should some Republican-controlled legislatures seek to throw out mail-in ballots wholesale and give their states’ Electoral College votes to Trump regardless of the final vote count, Democrats (and others) would be outraged.

There could also be intense anger on the left if Trump wins reelection by once again losing the popular vote but winning by narrow margins in states that give him an Electoral College victory.

Elections are a mock civil war, in which both sides just count how many people are on their side at the moment. But if no one believes the count, then it doesn’t serve as a way to decide who’s in power, does it? Then we have to fall back on the real thing.

In a liberal democracy, both sides play by an agreed set of rules, knowing that it will be their turn in power eventually. They lose gracefully.

But Marxists never play nice in a liberal democracy, if they have a real chance at power. They don’t care about changing or breaking the rules, or doing things they would never want done to them, because once they are in power they will never let the other side win again. Not ever.

The US left is becoming more and more Marxist, which is breaking the system. They are breaking the rules more and more often and openly now. They refuse to accept the legitimacy of the other side, or even of democracy itself. Calamity looms.