Aggressive partisanship and the threat of violence

Wesley J. Smith writes that our political passions threaten a new “bleeding Kansas,” or new partisan violence in the years to come:

The attempted assassination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is a warning that our national politics are careening out of control.

After pro-abortion activists posted Kavanaugh’s home address on the internet as an intimidation tactic, a California man—let’s not name him—flew to Washington with well-laid plans to allegedly kill the justice as a means of preventing the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Thankfully, the alleged assassin failed and is now in jail and charged with attempted murder.

Kavanaugh’s close call was hardly the first episode of politically motivated violence in recent years. In 2017, a Bernie Sanders supporter attempted the mass assassination of Republican lawmakers as they practiced for an annual charity baseball game, almost killing Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in 2020, violent riots resulted in mass arson and several deaths. The Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol resulted in serious injuries to several police officers and one unarmed rioter being shot to death. Things are getting so volatile that the Department of Homeland Security warned the nation of “a heightened threat environment” for political violence in the months ahead.

Does this volatility presage a full-fledged civil war? No. We aren’t that estranged from each other. But that shouldn’t make us sanguine. I do believe that we may be entering a time of ideological mayhem reminiscent of “Bleeding Kansas,” the historical term for the political violence between adamant pro- and anti-slave partisans contesting for political control over the then-territory that took up to 200 lives.

The issues are different, to be sure, but the parallels between Kansas in the 1850s and now are disturbing. Today, as then, our peaceability is threatened by increasing partisan antagonisms. Today, as then, the issues that divide us are moral and cultural rather than technocratic, making them unamenable to compromise. Today, as then, public passions are pushing the more extreme among us toward violence as a means of attaining political victory.

Wesley recommends ceasing incendiary rhetoric, embracing federalism, and practicing charity as ways to step back from the partisan precipice.