Posted by: Catherine Lugg | January 9, 2011

Political Violence in the US

While I am shocked by the events in Tuscon, I am sadly not surprised. We live in an era of supercharged political rhetoric, where some commentators deliberately use not-quite-coded calls to violence in the hopes of securing political change. This is not a symmetrical political disease, striking the left and right equally. There is no portion of the political right that embraces pacifism–the philosophy of governmental and personal non-violence. By contrast, pacifism is a fine tradition within some elements of the political left. This essential difference between the US political left and right is continually obscured in the imperial US, because pacifism is about as popular as athlete’s foot. An empire, by definition, is indifferent-to-hostile to pacifism, which is what we see in the US.

I highlight this essential difference between the US left and right because I fear the aftermath of the Tuscon massacre will be more of the same, where right-wing commentators and politicians will continue to paint targets on pictures of political actors and their interests (congressional and organizational) with whom they strongly disagree. These actions are invitations to assassination, particularly when viewed by unhinged individuals. But these calls also inure the larger population to the sheer dangerousness of this language. The constant invocation of “2nd Amendment remedies” legitimizes political violence against those with whom you disagree. It’s not cute and it’s not symbolic, but obviously it can be lethally effective.

My hope, frail and fragile that it is, is that some politicians and commentators will examine the language that they and others use, and refrain from calls to violence and rebuke those who do issue such calls. A truly civil society depends on peace–not endless political violence.

Below is a video of Congresswoman Giffords, who notes that the language of violence, particularly that of the political grifter Sarah Palin does have consequences. Unfortunately for Giffords, she will experience these consequences for the rest of her life.*

*We should not minimize the life-time effects of traumatic gunshot wounds, much less those to the brain. As I discovered with my research on Ronald Reagan, he never fully recovered from the assassination attempt. Yesterday’s events will NEVER have a happy resolution for anyone involved.



  1. Truly sad. We live during a period where the playbook is simple: Ridicule is a potent weapon; pick your opposition, label it, personalize it and polarize it. People will use rhetoric any which way they can to come out the winner especially when there is much competition vying for self-interests in a declining market. This is a poignant time to look at ourselves in the mirror and assess the country’s favorite pastime when times are awful–mudslinging.

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