Paul Pelosi assault latest act of political violence in new norm for ailing society
Stench of rot is pungent after such attacks, but the problem is more deeply rooted than QAnon conspiracy theories
The decay within our society is never as pungent as the stench after an act of political violence, as the assault on Paul Pelosi that could have been deadly for him and the speaker of the House demonstrates. Sadly, it's just the latest incident suggesting political violence is increasingly being the norm.
The details of the attack sound more like something out of a Halloween slasher film than reality. The injuries Paul Pelosi suffered were so damaging he had been to the hospital for surgery to repair a skull fracture and “serious injuries to his right arm and hands,” according to a spokesperson for the speaker's office.
The assailant, after somehow being able to enter the Pelosi home in San Francisco, shouted "Where's Nancy?" as he came upon the speaker's husband. Paul Pelosi may have only been able to survive because he convinced the assailant to let him use the bathroom where his phone was charging, giving him opportunity to call 911. Police officials apparently arrived on the scene to find the assault in progress when the they found Paul Pelosi and the assailant with hammer in hand.
Acts of political violence — or attempts of such violence — are on the increase in recent years and perpetuated on both sides of the political spectrum. The right has experienced violence in the form an armed man being arrested outside the home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and a gunman shooting at Republican members of Congress during a baseball game, which severely injured Rep. Steve Scalise. On the left, similar acts include an armed man being charged with a felony after making threats outside of progressive leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal's home. On the same day as the attack on the Pelosi home, a man was charged with making threats to Rep. Eric Swalwell about having a "lot of AR-15s."
The quintessential act of political violence in recent years is probably the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan 6. The Paul Pelosi assailant's cries of "Where's Nancy?" disturbingly echo the words of the January 6 rioters as they stormed in search for the speaker of the House.
Critics will say I'm being too generous with the "both-sides" approach to my presentation of acts in political violence in recent years. I concede the acts of political violence probably stem more from the right, but it's important to remember that's not exclusively that case. I'll get into why I think the right is more responsible for these acts of the violence momentarily.
From an anecdotal standpoint, this degree of political violence is something the nation hasn't seen in a long time, to my knowledge, not since the turbulent 1960s that saw the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. The resurgent acts of violence are shocking reminders the fever of our political climate is so high we've become not one national community making decisions in our political system on the way forward, but essentially two countries living on top of each other and vying for control and dominance over the other.
In the aftermath of these incidents, the other side likes to accuse the other of having gone too far and embracing political rhetoric that has led to the violence. The predictable reaction may seem justified, but I dare say, is more for the sake of political gains on the side of the victim. Each time it happens, I always feel the need to recognize the other side didn't explicitly call for violence.
Nancy Pelosi has been demonized by the right for a long time, but that's not the same as calling for someone to invade her home to attack her physically. Let's say the situation were different and the assailant went to Mar-a-Lago in search of Donald Trump. I can envision Republicans seizing on the intense opposition to him as the inspiration, but the Democrats would be just as inculpable.
Speaking of Trump, one exception I can think of regarding culpability leading to an act of political violence was the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Although Trump urged his supporters to march "peacefully and patriotically," that was more precaution to cover his bases after a speech ginning up his supporters with false claims of stolen election and urging them to march on the Capitol Building. It may stop short of legal liability, but that the link to the violence that followed is more direct.
Why does these acts of political violence keep happening more and more? News reports have already emerged the Paul Pelosi assailant was found to have made racist and incoherent posts online, some of which were consistent with QAnon conspiracy theories. The assailant, for example, once wrote any journalist who denied Trump's claims of election fraud "should be dragged straight out in the street and shot." These theories and the people perpetuating them will undoubtedly be blamed for the assault on Paul Pelosi.
But I think the underlying reason is the isolation and atomization in our unhappy world. Globalization, automation and other massive social upheavals have made life better in many ways, but for too many has taken what has given us purpose and identity. Human beings have a basic need to belong to something bigger than themselves, which these days often means political ideologies and causes as if they were a form of religion. When you mix in a little mental instability, it's not far leap to get to people committing horrific acts of violence in the name of that political ideology. In the minds of these individuals, they're heroes for their cause who are finally able to take control of their lives.
That's why I think we're seeing political violence perpetuated more on the right rather than the left. That's the side that has been more hollowed out with the loss of purpose, as local communities dry up or are radically changed in the increasing globalized world. The left, on the other hand, has within its coalition highly educated people able to adapt by moving to wherever their employment is necessary and find happiness in new communities.
To be sure, none of that is means to excuse or justify political violence. That's not what I'm saying at all. Paul Pelosi's assailant, for example, is facing multiples charges in California, including attempted murder, and likely go to jail for a long, long time. That's totally appropriate.
But our increasingly dystopic society based on our current trajectory will likely continue to see more and more acts of political violence. Blaming the other side for inflammatory political rhetoric may be a boon to one side over the other in our political system in the short term, but the rot will keep festering underneath.