The question of whether the United States is on the brink of a second Civil War has become increasingly relevant since the January 6th insurrection. Even more critical, however, is this question: What do we do now to decrease political violence in our country and make another civil war much less likely?
There are some who have concluded that we are already in a second Civil War. A pretty good case can be made that they are correct, at least to some extent. Right or not, however, the more pressing question is: What do we do now to reduce political violence?
A September 2022 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that “17 percent of Americans somewhat or strongly agreed that political violence against those they disagreed with was acceptable, with slightly more Democrats agreeing with the statement than Republicans or independents.” But when it comes to elected officials including Congresspeople, David Frum points out in a recent article in The Atlantic that “Only the GOP Celebrates Political Violence.”
Reducing political violence is an urgent issue that Congress should have at the top of its agenda. But whether there are enough members of Congress to form a bipartisan coalition to effectively address it remains to be seen, especially in the current hyper-partisan atmosphere engulfing Washington.
Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld is a Senior Fellow in the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In testimony before the January 6th Select Committee, she proposed numerous actions Congress could take to reduce political violence. Among them was crafting “a political pact to reduce violent rhetoric and imagery among candidates and Members of Congress…with teeth (i.e. strict sanctions).” She also advocated for federal legislation banning private militias.
Another effort Kleinfeld proposed was “programs that strengthen individual and community resilience to violence and protect targeted groups and their communities.” This is where we can help.
Specifically, I believe we need to organize local and state-wide, non-partisan conferences focused on developing and implementing effective community-based strategies to reduce political violence. Such strategies might include counseling and educational programs for individuals and groups on the left and the right who may be susceptible to resorting to political violence. Job training and placement for such individuals could prove beneficial as well.
The rise of political violence threatens our democracy. We ignore it at our peril. Now is the time to take positive action to thwart it before it’s too late.
A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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