Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Violence has no role in modern politics

The firebombing of the Republican Party headquarters in Hillsborough last week represents a new low in politics in a year of new lows in politics. But the firebombing and graffiti are more than just a new low. They are an attack on the American political/governmental system.

Politics developed as an alternative to the historical way of choosing leaders — armed combat. Democratic elections and campaigning evolved as a means of deciding who will lead a group or nation without bloodshed. Instead of the victor killing his rival, democratic politics allowed potential leaders to present their leadership qualities as more than brute force. Ideas, innovations, inspirational abilities, and resilience became factors in selecting leaders.

There have been occasional lapses into anachronistic brutality a few times in the American democracy, but those lapses have been rare. Political assassinations have been carried out primarily by deluded, mentally disturbed malcontents, not by political parties.

The 2016 campaign frequently has turned nasty, but nasty only in words, not in action. Nasty words from candidates and political advertising have repelled voters, but words have not devolved into violence — until the Hillsborough incident. Given the intensity of the contempt and hatred of this year's political rhetoric (just look at Facebook posts), it should be no surprise that words turned violent. 

Fortunately, both Republican and Democratic leaders condemned the firebombing for what it was, political terrorism and attack on the democratic process itself. Democrats raised money to help rebuild the GOP headquarters. More should be done in a bipartisan fashion to tone down the hateful rhetoric and lift up the mutual respect between the parties and candidates that used to mark American political campaigns. We need to bring back the "honorable representative from ..." and "my friends across the aisle" and "my honorable opponent." Such standards, even if insincere, would elevate the tone of debate.

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