The slide towards political violence

It doesn’t take much to turn the climate in a political movement in the direction of violence, particularly in the context of large gatherings and rallies. Passions are high, tolerance is low, and a small number of people are already prone to violence anyway. So provocation by a demagogue along the lines of racial or religious hatred is sometimes all it takes. And once violence occurs, it has a logic of its own — action and reaction, atrocity and counter-atrocity.

So it isn’t surprising that political scientists who study political violence are horrified by the recent language and behavior of the Trump campaign, and the candidate himself, that seem to be deliberately aimed at prodding followers into acts of violence. They can see where this is all going, and there doesn’t seem to be much anyone can do to stop it.

And the candidate doesn’t seem to mind the fact that he is taking the American polity into dangerous and uncharted territory. In fact, he visibly revels in his ability to shock — it energizes his followers, it generates media coverage, and it expands his influence. Trump has repeatedly encouraged his followers to assault protesters, and this encouragement of violence is wholly repugnant to our politics. Where is your moral compass, Mr. Trump?

Or to paraphrase Joseph Welch in his comments to Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings, “Mr. Trump, have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

All Americans of every political affinity should renounce this ugly and dangerous turn in our politics. It is wholly unworthy of our politics and our democracy.