American Decline

Politicians face violence and threats from voters — and each other. Are we nearing a civil war?

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Last week, an anonymous caller told a Republican congressman who voted with Democrats in favor of the infrastructure bill that he and his staff should die. On Monday, Twitter added a warning label to a cartoon video shared by a different Republican congressman in which he assassinated a colleague from across the aisle. On Wednesday, a Black Lives Matter organizer threatened “bloodshed” if New York’s mayor-elect reinstated a controversial anti-crime police unit. On Friday, an interview was released in which former President Donald Trump defended rioters calling for the hanging of his vice president.

In January, a new member of Congress vowed to come to work armed. Another admitted that, barricaded in his office as a mob coursed through the halls of the Capitol on Jan. 6, he thought he might have to use his own gun to defend himself. Still another member of Congress had a gun pointed at him during a town hall meeting. And one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump — fearing for the safety of his wife and children — decided not to seek re-election.

At least one noted American historian is comparing today’s pugnacious politics with that of the republic in the years leading up to the Civil War. And indeed, Americans around the country seem to endorse bellicose behavior. According to a survey published on Nov. 1, 18 percent of all Americans (30 percent of Republicans, 17 percent of Independents and 11 percent of Democrats) believe that “patriots” might have to resort to violence to save the country. Another poll earlier in the year found that 46 percent of people thought the country was somewhat or very likely to have another civil war.

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