Stopping Political Violence In America
To The Reader’s Forum:
As a sociologist, I want to understand the origins of the kind of political violence we all saw in the mob that broke into our capitol building. I was shocked by an opinion survey reported on NPR radio on Feb. 11. The report noted that a national opinion poll found that 39% of Republicans justify political violence. More specifically, they agreed with the proposition that, “If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions”. Other opinion polls confirm the same finding that many Republicans justify violence to preserve what they regard as the traditional American way-of-life.
These people, of course, are not all Republicans, or even a majority of Republicans. Yet, they are still millions of Americans. Who are they and why are they so angry? As far as I can understand from the social science research that I have read, they are the people who are unable to adjust to social changes that have remolded of American culture since that 1960s. They can’t adjust to the increasing social power and influence of women, Afro-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans. They are angry about the declining influence of traditional religion in everyday life, including the elimination of required Christian prayers in public schools, shopping on Sundays, the wide acceptance of abortion and legal protections for gay and lesbian people. Many of them are also hurt by technological changes that have eliminated opportunities for well-paid blue-collar jobs. In brief, these people are resentful, because they feel helpless to change the world around them. They were looking for a savior and found one in Donald Trump.
These “left-behind” people tend to be concentrated in the rural areas of our country. They disproportionately voted for Trump. Rural people are more stressed and more harmed by the changes noted above, than are people who live in cities. City people are more acceptant of social change and actually more likely to benefit from technological and cultural change. This is the basis of our political polarization.
Biden’s government will need to show more empathy and give more economic help to the rural people who did not vote for him. He also needs to make clear that anti-democratic and pro-violent attitudes endanger our country and its democratic traditions. In addition, Republicans leaders must denounce anti-democratic voices in their own party.