Over the past few years, I’ve gotten in the habit of writing about my political views directly on Facebook where the audience is limited to my friends. Part of that is convenience and part of it is a desire to avoid the toxicity of random internet commenters. But politics on Facebook is making Facebook an unpleasant place as well, so I’ve decided that I’m going to try to move my longer posts back to my blog and spare my friends my bloviations. We’ll see how long that lasts.
I’m listening to my political podcasts and some are still discussing the latest impeachment and what it means and all that.
On the latest episode of the Lawfare podcast, David Priess made this comment. (Any errors in transcription are mine.)
The second Trump impeachment was something quite different. It was something attacking the constitutional order itself and inviting, if not inciting, the use of political violence to achieve what could not be achieved within the regular order. That is the part that has me worried.
And, yes, it’s because I’m also reading _The Storm before the Storm_ by Mike Duncan about the Roman republic and when the norms of peaceful assemblies and things first were broken that the precedent was established that political violence could happen,and could go unpunished which made it more likely for the next one and the next one.
And I’ve gotta think what’s important now — even if Trump is not held personally accountable in some way — for a new consensus to develop around the fact that, yes, we were not able to convict the president for various reasons, most of them fig leafs, but we must have a consensus that political violence to achieve ends that we unachievable within the constitutional order– that’s unacceptable. We can’t let this become the precedent or else I fear that in two years, five years, ten years the next time there’s something like this, the shock value is gone. And it becomes easier to accept “Well, we didn’t actually overthrow the constitutional order this time. They disrupted and they delayed the Senate procedure, but they didn’t stop it, so it’s OK. The system worked.” Well, what is it that next time is gonna be OK? “Well, you know, they did actually delay the inauguration of the next president, but it was only by a few months and everything worked out OK. The system held.”
Well, the system is not holding if you get to that point.42:42 – 44:56
I am not certain, but I would be surprised if Mr. Priess doesn’t have his eye on other violent expressions of political ideology beyond just the attack on the Capitol on January 6.
On one hand, I do think the attack on the Capitol is worse than any violent protests we’ve seen in decades because it was an attack directly on the government of the United States of America and a constitutionally mandated function of one of the branches of government. That’s very serious.
But on the other hand, it doesn’t seem to me that political violence used when political ends aren’t or haven’t been achieved through normal order is actually all that uncommon these days. The obvious counter example to the right-wing mob of Jan 6, 2020 is the left-wing mobs that burned cars and buildings and sieged a federal building over the summer. Even before the Trump era, though, there were violent protests on university campuses that resulted in injuries and property damage.
We do have political terrorists in this country from the right-wing Aryan Nation to the left-wing Antifa, these groups openly advocate for the use of violence to promote their political ideas.
I don’t have a clear view of membership trends within these organizations, but it seems from my limited perspective that more people are subscribing to the idea that sometimes violence is a perfectly acceptable tactic for advancing a political cause.
What is even less clear is what principle guides or justifies the use of violence. It seems like it’s just if you get enough people who are mad enough then they’ll be violent and others will say, “Can you blame them?”
I’ll echo Mr. Priess’s comments and say I find this deeply concerning.
For my own perspective, I think that as long as the political system does offer non-violent mechanisms for advancing a political agenda, then violence is not justified. As long as we have freedom of speech, freedom of press, access to courts, near-universal franchise, etc. then violence is not justified.
I can understand the frustration with the slowness of political processes. My own political views are those of an extreme minority — laissez faire capitalism, strong but limited government, open borders, pro-abortion, pro-freedom of religion, pro-gun, pro-legalization of all drugs, etc — so BELIEVE ME. I understand.
But impatience and frustration does not justify violence when we have the freedom to drive change peacefully. You can’t claim to defend anyone’s rights when you’re violating people’s rights to convince them to agree with you. It was difficult to write that sentence because it’s just so nonsensical.
Unfortunately, I don’t know how we can get back to a place of honest, open debate about contentious issues, a place where people of different political ideologies respect one another to at least make the attempt to change each other’s mind.