Editorial: Political violence contradicts democracy

With a rise in political division in the leadup to the Nov. 8 midterm elections, the corresponding rise in threats and political violence has proven to be a growing and very real threat to democracy.

Recently, the attack against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul Pelosi in their San Francisco home has led to conversations surrounding the prominence of political violence and its entrance into the realm of legitimate discourse.

According to TIME, there were 9,600 recorded threats against members of Congress last year which, reportedly, was ten times the number of threats in 2016. In addition to those on the national level, threats toward local political systems are surfacing, such as individuals harassing school board members, municipal health organizations and other local government entities.

The need to not only address, but also combat, instances where people use violence to attack political enemies, further their own political gain or intervene with the democratic process grows ever more apparent in the current political climate. To ensure that these vitriolic and reprehensible efforts are properly dealt with, there must be consequences for those who partake in or initiate violence. 

While some of the speech circulating as the election nears may be protected under the First Amendment, threats against officials can have a detrimental effect on mental health and confidence in political institutions and the public. Seeing these actions as commonplace can demonstrate to other members of the public that these actions are necessary and the new normal.

This is something that has been seen in Michigan as well. In 2020 there were credible threats to kill Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the State Attorney General Dana Nessel. Two of the men that were a part of this have been convicted, while the others are still awaiting trial.

The acceptance of this messaging by the public gives credence to the actions of candidates who remain noncommittal when talking about accepting potential election results. The events of Jan. 6, 2021 have already shown the dire and deadly consequences of the culmination of years of inflammatory rhetoric that serves to encourage those who would commit such violence.

Insurrection, violence, threats to kidnap, hang and otherwise murder sitting members of our government – these are an affront to everything our nation was built to uphold. Those who portray themselves as “patriots” and advocates for freedom in order to justify this violence and rhetoric embody ideals that run counter to the ideals of a free democracy.

If the vicious cycle of the use, engagement and ignoring of political violence continues this could contribute to polarization and the uncertainty of a stable democratic society. It’s important that instead individuals and organizations promote peaceful political engagement especially when tensions are high in order to shape a more healthy society.