Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Way With Words

After last Wednesday's shooting at Republican practice for the annual Congressional charity baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia, one of the targets for blame was "overheated political rhetoric." And one of the phrases that came back into the public consciousness was "words have consequences."

One of the interesting things about public anger at politics and with politicians is that people tend to see it as genuine emotion when it comes from people the agree with, and the result of cynical emotional manipulation when it doesn't.

Three guesses which side of the political spectrum "NewsBlaze" comes down on...
There seems to be an understanding that co-partisans can be legitimately upset with policies enacted by the other side, to the point of anger or even literal outrage. But people on the other side are often seen as passively accepting of the world around them, unless someone takes action, either deliberate or careless, to "rile them up." Part of it is simple political blind spots. It's easy to understand how policy choices that one doesn't like, either because of the policies themselves or the people who enacted them, are simply bad. And it makes sense that people would be angry at wrongheaded, perverse or treacherous policy choices. It seems to be more difficult for Americans to understand that the policy choices they support might create losers, or people who honestly perceive themselves as possible losers, and that those people would have a genuine (if perhaps premature or misplaced) grievance with those policies and their supporters.

And once you've convinced yourself that the only reason why someone could be roused to violence over what is obviously sound policy is that they are weak-willed, ignorant and easily- mislead, it's only a short step to pointing out the strongest voices that one disagrees with as engaging in incitement. Which is not to say that incitement doesn't happen - but it rarely, if ever, directly comes from the highest halls of power. Open calls for violence tend to erode the support that politicians depend on. It's the rare office holder who could, as then-candidate Donald Trump bragged, shoot a man in the street and not lose any support. And so people hear dog whistles everyone (despite the fact that the whole point behind a dog whistle is that it's not universally audible).

While far from the worst place in the world for political violence, the United States is always going to have an undercurrent of it because we tend to view violence as a way of solving problems. Even when the problem is politics.

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