Things To Come

In a hopeful piece at RealClearPolitics Braver Angels leader John Wood Jr. surveys the present political landscape:

Seven members of the Michigan militia group, Wolverine Watchmen, were  arrested  on charges of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow Michigan’s elected government. According to authorities, the group targeted law enforcement officers and other state officials and planned “to instigate a civil war leading to societal collapse.”

Sadly, this news wasn’t as shocking as it would have been even a decade ago. Political polarization is increasing, and both sides of the aisle believe the other side is out to get them. The Michigan arrests should be a wake-up call to Americans across the political spectrum to lay aside their differences and work together to restore the fraternal spirit of our democracy. There is room in America for many different views, but there isn’t room for violence and the division that inspires it. 

noting the very real problems

Recent  polling from Braver Angels shows half of Americans do not believe the November elections will be “fair and honest.” Half of Americans believe that Americans will not “generally agree on who is the legitimately elected president of the United States,” and a majority of Americans — 55%— believe that we “will see an increase in violence as a result of the election.”  If these numbers are right, the Michigan plot may only be a precursor to what will happen in November, especially if the election is close.  

Data from a January 2019 study titled “Lethal Mass Partisanship”  shows we are on the precipice  of mass political violence. The survey showed that 18% of Democrats and 13% of Republicans believe that political violence is acceptable if the 2020 election doesn’t go their way.

But we don’t need university studies to show us the reality of social unrest in American cities from Portland to Kenosha, where partisan demonstrators have collided with fatal consequences. 

He’s much more hopeful than I. Consider some alternative scenarios.

  1. Biden wins a massive popular and electoral vote victory. Trump-Pence challenges the result in court. Trump’s supporters contend that the outcome is due to massive fraud. Violence ensues.
  2. Trump wins a massive popular and electoral vote victory. Biden-Harris challenges the result in court. Biden’s supporters content that the outcome is due to fraud, voter suppression, or other. Violence ensues.
  3. Trump wins a narrow electoral vote victory, losing the popular vote. Biden-Harris challenges the result in court, insisting that counting continue until it reveals a Biden-Harris victory. Biden’s supporters contend that the outcome is due to fraud, voter suppression, or other. Violence ensues.
  4. Election night comes and goes without a clear victor. Counting continues for days, even weeks without a clear victor. Both sides declare victory and seek redress in the courts. Supporters of both call “foul”. Violence ensues.
  5. Biden wins on election night. Trump concedes. That seems out of character and in conflict with what the president has said. I think it is unlikely.
  6. Trump wins on election night. Biden concedes. That is in conflict with how this outcome has been wargamed by members of the DNC and, consequently, I think it is unlikely.

Mr. Wood concludes:

We need a countermovement of Americans who are willing to publicly say no, violence isn’t the cure to what ails our politics. My organization, Braver Angels, hopes to create this community by gathering Americans from across the political spectrum to sign a  public letter  stating in the event of a contested election, “We resolve to work together across this chasm for solutions grounded in the Constitution and guided by our democratic and non-violent tradition.” We are also providing interested Americans with ways to help keep the peace on Election Day and after.  

If our divided response to a global pandemic, racial turmoil, economic decline and electoral integrity reveals anything to us, it should be that the major problem with American politics today is not necessarily one party or the other, as much as it is the relationship between the parties — from Main Street to Capitol Hill — and how that warps and challenges the relationship between all of  us. If we commit ourselves to the work of reweaving the social fabric of American civil society, we commit ourselves to solving the fundamental problem undermining our democracy.  

IMO we need major structural political reform to step back from the “precipice” as he describes it. I think there are too many people making too much money from things as they are for that to happen.

4 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    I keep going back and forth on the prospects of widespread political violence,

    On the one hand, passions are high and several indicators for political violence are active.

    On the other hand, the vast majority of people don’t actually seem willing to do more than performative “acts” on social media and cheer others on. Very few seem willing to take concrete action, much less the kinds of high-stakes actions that would lead to or precipitate violence. Doing so requires a much higher level of risk than performative outrage on social media, and most do not seem willing to take that risk.

    So one thing I’ve been looking at recently are signs and indicators that people will move from performative outrage to actual action. I think this switch will hinge on the material conditions of people’s lives which could definitely be where Covid comes into play.

    One thing I’ve been looking for recently is someone doing formal indications-and-warning work on this topic. I haven’t had any luck. I’m really surprised that there don’t seem to be any retired intel analysts or think tanks who are using techniques the intel communities uses to provide strategic warning in other countries to problems here in the US, like the potential for significant domestic unrest.

  • On the other hand, the vast majority of people don’t actually seem willing to do more than performative “acts” on social media and cheer others on.

    It wouldn’t take a lot of people, let alone a majority. Just a relative handful of idiots. We appear to be well endowed with idiots these days.

    There were about 32 million people in the U. S. in 1860. About 2.75 million took active part in the American Civil War. Wars don’t mean a majority of people fight or even care enough to take part in the fighting.

  • steve Link

    One guy with a gun could kill dozens. It doesn’t take many people to cause a lot of damage. Still, we just dont have a recent history of killing over national elections of which I am aware. What I worry more about is local politics where things can get really vicious. People who went to the same high school and hated each other then and still do 20 years later when their own kids are in school. The school board meetings have been getting ugly in our area. One of my advanced practice nurses has had someone making threats online to her and drives up and down the street in front of her house. Her husband has quite a gun supply and is prepared. All over whether some of the kids should wear masks initially but now it is bleeding into the election.


  • Andy Link

    I’m not talking about isolated incidents or something sui generis like the Civil War, but about activists willing to put their words into action and, eventually, to force everyone to “pick a side” in a violent conflict. One of the primary goals of radical and even activists groups is to force fence-sitters to get skin in the game..

    As the saying goes, “talk is cheap” so the key metric is when groups of people are willing to take action, to include violent action. This does not require a majority of the population or even a majority of a broad faction (the “left” or “right”). Random people committing acts of violence as well as acts outlier groups with no broader base like this militia are usually insufficient, though they can be a catalyst.

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