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The long-term harm from short-term gain
When you go out of your way to antagonize people, they become antagonized. Surprise!
When Donald Trump told the assembled crowd on January 6 that "if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore," he was following a long tradition in American politics. Both parties have spent generations catastrophizing the effects of opposition victory. The "Flight 93 election" narrative common in 2016 was there in 2008 as well, as many people were terrified at the thought of Barack Obama as President. I was scolded many times for not supporting John McCain because of the danger Obama represented. This is hardly new: The "Daisy" commercial in 1964 promised nuclear war if Barry Goldwater was elected President.
Politically, catastrophizing the opposition does have short-term political effectiveness, but it is not sustainable in the long term. You may convince wavering conservatives (or wavering liberals) to support your candidate or party in the general election, but eventually, people start believing it all the time and about all contests. And that is why we have this:
The polls by the University of Virginia Center for Politics shows a nation at war with itself. Fifty-two percent of Biden supporters say Republicans are now a threat to American life while 47 percent of Trump supporters say the same about Democrats.
Among Biden supporters, 41 percent now believe violence is justified "to stop [Republicans] from achieving their goals." An almost identical percentage, 38 percent, of Trump supporters now embrace violence to stop Democrats.
Furthermore, if a candidate or elected official does not use catastrophic rhetoric, he is "blind to reality" and the terrible things that will happen if the other guy wins. Donald Trump is a modern incarnation of Adolf Hitler, and liberal Democrats will implement a Soviet Holodomor if they win the 2024 election. If you do not speak of the opposition that way, then you will be pushed aside in favor of someone who will.
Embracing obnoxious rhetoric and reveling in "owning the libs" does not help. By polling data, Republicans want a candidate who makes liberals angry. Not only is this politically counterproductive, this encourages catastrophizing among liberals. When Republicans say outrageous things to get a reaction, people take them seriously. And then they wonder why people have "Trump Derangement Syndrome" after Trump has spent the last decade needlessly antagonizing people. The same is true for Trump's imitators on the Right. Here is a hint: When you go out of your way to antagonize people, they become antagonized. Duh.
The same is true on the Left.
We all need to be better, and seek to lower the temperature by avoiding unnecessarily inflammatory rhetoric. Who should be the first person on that list? That would be the author of this newsletter. When I read the article at Fox, the first thing I thought about is my own catastrophizing rhetoric about Democrats and Leftists. This does not mean that everything I have said was wrong, and sometimes you do have to point to the dangerous consequences of ideology or policy. For example, Bloomington Democrats actually did put a political agenda over public safety with traffic policy, and the crash statistics prove it. But I do need to think about what I say more carefully, especially about domestic policy, and whether my rhetoric is fearmongering, and whether I am contributing to needless negative partisanship.
So yes, speak honestly on policy and the consequences of that policy. Honestly analyze a politician's policy platform. But what we do not want to do - or at least should not want to do - is paint a picture that is so bleak that the only way out is bloody street battles or open civil war.