If the recent assassination attempt targeting Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh weren’t sufficient proof that a divided America is tiptoeing toward violent conflict, a research firm released a “disturbing poll” showing that nearly half of male Democrats under the age of 50 believe it acceptable to assassinate a politician “who is harming the country or our democracy.” Given that James Hodgkinson nearly succeeded in assassinating an entire baseball field of Republican members of Congress just a few years ago, the appetite for continued political violence shows no sign of abating.
Sen. Rand Paul, who has suffered two violent, politically motivated attacks in recent years, called out the White House and congressional Democrats for “ginning up and encouraging” violence. However, in a country that increasingly eschews rational debate and embraces the vituperative soundbites of reality TV, it can be no surprise that the political stakes in America are tending toward bloodshed.
It was once widely understood in the United States that vociferous debate and vigorous policy disagreement were features of a healthy American society. Hashing out arguments over contested issues in the public square had two immediate salubrious effects: it allowed the average American to appreciate the “pros” and “cons” of consequential policy decisions, and it provided those whose viewpoints did not win the day to nonetheless speak their minds.
As a testament to how vital debate and disagreement are to the process of creating good public policy, it has often been the case throughout American history that the well-articulated arguments of the “losing side” eventually rise to guide future generations.