Attacks on government figures lead to rising concern over safety, polarization
Politics has always been controversial. People have different opinions on every topic, and it causes debates about the way our government should be run. This becomes especially clear for those directly involved in politics who hold government positions.
Being in the public eye comes with a lot of responsibility, as you are making decisions that affect the lives of so many. History is littered with individuals who turned to violence against elected officials.
“Political violence is an increasingly serious problem,” said Dr. Chris McHorney, professor of political science. “We live in a highly polarized society with a growing percentage of Americans viewing members of the other political ‘tribe’ as a threat to our country.”
Violence against political figures has become more common. The most recent event occurred in late October, when a suspect reportedly broke in and attacked Paul Pelosi, husband of Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi in their San Francisco home, according to a release from the Department of Justice. He sustained a skull fracture and major injuries to his hand and arm.
Another close call occurred in early June when police arrested an armed man near the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The man targeted Kavanaugh because he thought the justice would side with Second Amendment decisions that would loosen gun control laws, according to a federal affidavit. So, why this is happening so often?
“People have this wrong belief that if people don’t agree with what they believe, they can take their anger out on them physically,” said Lillian McConnell, senior political science major. “I think our culture actually encourages that. Our culture and society are now trending towards demonizing different belief systems, and when you have an extreme viewpoint that can eventually be expressed through violence and anger. As a culture, we need to stop demonizing the other political party.”
Historically, the U.S. has always had political violence. However, over the decades there has been a rise. According to Journal of Democracy, “an unprecedented number of elections administrators received threats in 2020 — so much so that a third of poll workers surveyed by the Brennan Center for Justice in April 2021 said that they felt unsafe and 79% wanted government-provided security.”
However, Dr. Chase Porter, professor of political science, warns that each incident is unique and that we should avoid generalizing them.
“I don’t think we can generalize from these individual incidents to draw conclusions about society as a whole,” Porter said. “But if there is a lesson to be learned, it’s that we need to dampen the existential rhetoric surrounding politics and really think through concrete ways to work through our philosophical and policy differences without resorting to treating our political opponents as mortal enemies.
“To some extent, there are challenges there when you see your opponent’s policies as evil, but we do need to think more about how to make those arguments in a way that treats our opponents as human beings and bearers of the image of God.”
Disagreement is inevitable in the world of politics, but how should we respond to incidents of violence? Situations like these can be tricky to handle, but acknowledging the event and identifying areas of growth can help.
“I think (these incidents) should be handled very specifically,” McConnell said. “I don’t think it should be handled as just another instance.”