If It’s Been Worse, Will It Get Better?

It’s not all that comforting, really. But as historians and old people with good memories know, today’s violent political climate is depressingly not new. With synagogue shootings and Trump-fueled mail bombings, it’s hard not to panic. Yet Andrew Bacevich thinks there is some grounds for wary optimism. Should we agree?

We don’t need to go all the way back to the earliest days of our nation when rebels took up arms against the fledgling federal government. We don’t even need to go back to the ugliest days of American political history, when a US Congressman beat a US Senator into a coma on the floor of the US Senate. No, we only need to remember events in our lifetimes (for those of us of a certain age). In the 1970s, political bombings were a regular feature of American life.

economis political violence

Comforting? …or terrifying?

Whatever your political beliefs, there’s no doubt that the left-wing violence of the groups such as the Weather Underground in the 1970s threatened the fabric of American civil life. As Bacevich points out, back then the left succumbed to a despairing, violent “nihilism.” The Weather Underground issued a call to

Amerika’s youth to use our strategic position behind enemy lines to join forces in the destruction of the empire.

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Public Enemy #1

They tried, but they failed. And Bacevich hopes today’s alt-right will sputter as well. As he puts it,

The ebb and flow of events in the 1960s should give us confidence that the center will ultimately hold. The market for ecstasy and violence will once more prove to be limited and transitory. Today’s alt-right is no more likely to win the support of ordinary Americans than did the Weather Underground during the infamous Days of Rage.

I’d like to agree, but I admit I’m skeptical. I get nervous when I see our President ejecting journalists from the White House on trumped-up accusations. I get nervous when elections return avowed neo-Confederates to office—in Iowa of all places.

What do you think? Do you share Bacevich’s cautious optimism? Or do you think that Norman Mailer’s ‘“subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires,” expressing the “concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation”’ will overwhelm its banks one time too many?

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