How Democrats’ Terror Of Violence Dooms American Democracy
One in three Americans, including four out of ten Independents, say violence against the government is sometimes justified.
Yet, despite most Americans agreeing that democracy is under threat, Fewer than one in four Democrats agree.
This finding, from a recent Washington Post poll, is a stark contrast from the just twenty years ago when nine out of ten Americans said anti-government violence is never justified.
The eighteen percentage point gap that has opened up between Democrats and Independents on this question is stark and quite telling. It says something very important about why the Democrats are losing the fight to preserve American democracy.
So, about violence.
To satisfy the Medium censors I need to make it abundantly clear that I am not advocating violence in any shape or form.
Violence is bad. It begets itself, adding to the many miseries of life. Violence is never, ever justified.
But sometimes, it is excusable. Even necessary, unless you believe Hitler ought to have been allowed to conquer the world.
The United States of America exists today because its Founders engaged in open violence against their legal government.
They defended their actions by making the case that their government had violated rights they believed to be God-given. That most Americans by and large don’t look back on George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in the same way they do Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee comes down to the fact the Founders won their war.
In other words, they engaged in violence, were successful, then wrote their history so their actions were seen by their descendants as necessary or even moral.
Pretty much the history of America in a nutshell, that. The books everyone is assigned in high school and college aren’t written by indigenous groups for a reason.
Trying to justify violence is an old and utterly broken game played by literally everyone who has ever gained power. It’s necessary for the powerful because most people don’t like violence, at least not when they see it in real life.
Cognitively most of us empathize with others and hate to see them in pain, which was why millions of Americans took to the streets to protest police violence after watching George Floyd be murdered by agents of the State. So long as Americans don’t see the violence done by their government, they generally don’t do a damn thing about it.
And when political partisans get involved, everything gets even more perverse. A personal example: soon after Barack Obama became President in 2009 and continued the Bush era drone wars even my most liberal Berkeley friends suddenly shifted stance. All of a sudden they backed drone strikes “justified” more often than not by faulty intelligence where not two years prior they had denounced Bush doing them.
People like me, who actually volunteered to fight in this stupid conflict and were trained on how things like drone strikes really work — or don’t, as often as not — found our voices marginalized. So long as drone killings gave the party an edge over those dastardly Republicans, most liberal Americans were quick to forget the violence done in their names and using their tax dollars.
It’s the oldest story in history — what we do is right and proper and justified, what they do is wrong and barbaric and a crime against moral decency. This simple feedback look is what usually destroys complex societies.
In times of collapse, when people feel like the world is falling apart, they get more and more cautious about who they trust. They tend to hoard resources and energy to avoid being caught exposed when something important in their life comes under sudden stress.
Any whiff of hypocrisy is death to an organization trying to get people to hold together in the face of a common threat under these circumstances. Americans, like people anywhere, don’t commit completely to the politics of either major party.
People follow social norms in order to avoid being cast out of a group that’s important to them. Democrats nowadays preach a reflexive love of and trust in government, which constantly puts them in the position of defending the dumb stuff governments do in America.
Polls consistently show that the majority of Americans don’t like or trust the federal government. They feel afraid for the future and know full well political parties and allied media outlets sell them clickbait partisan stories.
So there’s a very serious problem with the fact Democrats have made trust in government a core part of their social norms. It runs straight up against most Americans experience of the thing, creating cognitive dissonance that undermines trust.
Traditional media voices blame social media for tribalizing America, but the apps — though obviously manipulated to be addictive for profit — are only meeting an ancient demand. People like to share news and talk about it, even if they can’t possibly have the education required to understand what’s happening at the level of a specialist.
And as much as smart people might hate it, people will always choose what to believe. And their choice is not necessarily informed by logic and rational thought. Social factors are key — and inescapable because of how naturally diverse humanity is.
Trust me on this — I’m autistic. Every day I live with the experience of seeing people ignore logical, rational choices and instead conform to social norms, then turn around and pretend these norms are themselves inherently logical, good, and moral. Pretty much all major global challenges could be dealt with in the space of a generation if people were rational enough to perceive their common interest and had the self-discipline to get the work done.
The world is messed up not so much because of bad people, but because it is so difficult to describe how it works in a simple enough way most people can agree on what things must or must not happen. Inability to see the full consequences of our actions is a fundamental life challenge.
Younger people in particular are abandoning traditional media for the same reason trust in government is hard to find: the pundits keep telling the same stale story about America. A tale about a country that is both better than all the rest but held back from realizing an Earthly utopia because there exists an other side that just won’t see reason.
It no longer matches up with our experience of the world. The big name outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, and legacy networks publish ideas written by people whose jobs long ago degenerated into feeding a certain group of people in America stories about how important they are.
Wealthy, well-connected, secure and insulated from most of the dangers of the world, their over-arching communal goal is maintaining the system as it presently stands forever. They know that the single most dangerous development in the history of any society is large numbers of people coming to the conclusion that violence is justified.
It has become a critical component of the essential mythos of the American left that it must be committed to non-violence in the face of pretty much any provocation. That ethos has spread among the college educated who were taught to accept it as a kind of self-sustaining moral good in basically the same way preachers tell their congregations that if they remain pure God will bless them.
But blanket terror of violence is what ultimately makes violence not only possible, but inevitable. In America, the Democrats are positively terrified of violence. They demand that it be shunned to the degree that even talking about it is a red flag in polite left-leaning circles.
Violence is something inherently dirty, forever staining a person in the mainstream Democratic suburbanite-driven worldview. The main reason why is that the Democrats are now the party of the college educated, people who are trained by their middle class, suburbanite professors look at most any dirty job as beneath properly educated people.
This dynamic intersects critically with another. College is both the key to high-paying jobs in America and the source of an astonishing amount of debt held by younger people. As so many Americans are priced out of college the Democrats have in effect become the party of the establishment, the great American managerial class.
They’re doing fine in the post-pandemic economy — anyone without a degree or in-demand skill faces prices rising faster than wages, eroding their purchasing power. Meanwhile those who lack a degree are forced to take jobs that expose them to Covid and its human allies who hate public health.
A growing number of people who have studied democracy, national collapse, civil war, and violence warn that America is in a historically fragile place. No one knows who to trust, and at such a moment entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to get people to accept new explanations for why things are broken.
Under these circumstances, you should expect a lot, maybe even a majority of Americans to say violence is sometimes justified against the government.
Again, I’m not arguing that it is. Violence is never justified, but in some cases it must be excused. That’s what self-defense is — a legal excuse you have a right and responsibility to rely on if someone uses violence against you or anyone around you.
The fact Democrats don’t accept violence under any circumstances where Republicans and Independents do implies something uniquely social is going on. Faced with overwhelming evidence that their Republican opponents are moving to give state legislatures the legal ability to ignore the popular vote when sending Electors to the Electoral College, the Democrats are responding to this by more or less warning Republicans they’ll be really upset if it happens.
Which, when facing a rising hard-right that sincerely believes it is America’s future, is exactly how you prove to all the people you depend on that you’re not serious about fighting for democracy. In the end, moral claims do not motivate most people to action. Belief that someone has their back does.
The Democrats’ chronic terror of violence sends an awful message to the people most likely to suffer the most if American democracy is extinguished. Democratic leaders spend so much time obsessively trying to claim an anti-violent moral high ground they have already ceded the entire battlefield to people who are willing to engage in violence.
After the Capitol Attack, it didn’t take long for the Democrats to politicize what could have been a vital turning point in the fight against Trumpism. Instead of focusing on the successful defense of the political process and prosecuting the rioters, they moved to score every political point they could.
In the process, they adopted the implicit position that the violence of the Capitol Attack was its worst feature. Not the threat it posed to the Constitution, but the fact violent speech and imagery were used.
One gets the distinct impression that if the rioters had been wearing suits and walked calmly to seize the House and Senate floors and install Trump as President the Democrats wouldn’t have been as upset. Every time some right wing troll posts a picture of their family holding rifles or an edited anime where they’re slaying monsters with AoC’s head and the Democrats respond with outrage, they give the right wing another easy win.
Every time they play this game, the Democrats look weaker and the right feels stronger. College-educated Democratic-leaning pundits have charged into that trap again and again in 2021 and seem set to in the coming years too.
Let’s be honest about what a college degree really means. Most people get them by satisfying requirements set by middle class suburbanites who thanks to lifetime tenure get to set the norms in academia. This secular priestly caste has since the 1960s come to dominate higher education and teaches students mostly canonical thinking popular when the tenured types were themselves in grad school, and this is especially true of traditionally white male dominated fields like humanities, philosophy, economics, and political science.
This caste teaches undergraduates a Disney version of how America works that leaves out most of the nuances you have to go to graduate school to learn about. These put to shame most of the national myths white liberal American suburbanites spout in public, as if by doing so they’ll finally prove to the right that they’re patriotic Americans too.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, a minority of Americans now holds a four year college degree. Unfortunately for America, this minority thinks it has the right to run the place.
But education is a marker of social class. Whether a child’s parents went to college or earned a graduate degree is a fantastic predictor that they will too. Even celebrated personalities on the left like Noam Chomsky are in on this game, with being a tenured professor correlated with growing up wealthier than most Americans.
The death knell for the Democrats will be its steady loss of support among swathes of the Latino and even Black electorate, whose members are less likely to have access to a college education. As the party more and more reflects the interests of its white suburbanite college educated donor base, it increasingly loses touch with everyone else.
Leading Democrats have an obsession with appealing to everyone all the time, thinking that politics is a function of marketing. But it isn’t, at least not in times of confusion. A core lesson of complex systems and the adaptive cycle is that theories and ideas that work in one phase tend to fail in others.
You can’t approach a society in collapse the same way you would one that is stable and growing thanks to efficiency gains. Trust exists in that phase and the system remains resilient to shocks. During the collapse, people trust what makes a visible impacts on their lives.
Trust is earned. It is earned most effectively though listening carefully to what people need then delivering concrete results — and they get to define what these look like. Not marketers or spin doctors, whose actions wind up driving voters away because they lack credibility.
Material, on the ground impacts are what matter. Keeping prices stable. Making sure people feel they can build a better future. Stopping plagues.
There is no more visible sign that a person is deserving of trust than when they take risks on behalf of others. In politics, this means finding issues that affect people’s day to day lives and forcing change.
Even if the changes the hard right is winning on school and elections boards in America seem ridiculous, they are gaining support by demonstrating their capabilities. The Democrats, by contrast, run so far and fast from anything remotely controversial few people really trust them.
The ideas of Woke History or Defunding the Police did not become toxic because the average American truly loves all police or believes Black Americans haven’t had it bad in America’s history. The Democrats allowed hard right voices to define them for the public by refusing to prove to Americans that they mean something different than the hard right insists.
The leadership reads polls and uses them to justify cowardly actions, forgetting the fact it’s the job of leaders to move voters’ opinions sometimes.
Running as the establishment alternative to fascism doesn’t work if no one believes you’ll actually show up to the fight when it inevitably comes. Everyone knows fascists don’t obey the laws or care about elections, it’s… well… kind of the whole point of fascism. Asserting power until someone pushes back hard enough.
In a situation where fascists have taken control of government, people are supposed to consider violence in response. The entire American ethos is rooted in this very proposition, and by completely ruling out the possibility of violence as a necessary tool, college-educated liberal suburbanite types lose credibility and fail.
Democrats’ refusal as a group to consider that violence is sometimes necessary is how you can tell they are not truly serious about winning a fight to preserve Democracy. They instead cling to a Christian Disney narrative of progress where after sufficiently lengthy and desperate moral resistance by the Good Guys God intervenes to save the day and dispense judgment upon the wicked.
A pretty belief system. But one that condemns the believers to endure a great deal of temporal misery until God gets around to doing something.
And more likely, leads to the total collapse of the left and its subsequent reconstitution into a force that can and will protect the vulnerable.