Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dangerous Times? Half-Full or Half-Empty?

It now seems de rigeur to take one's guns with you when protesting President Obama. These images are chilling and speak to larger issues. I am not going to get into gun control in this post (perhaps some other time), but rather the extremism that seems to be on the rise.

To be clear, it is hard to tell how much is real versus how much is amplified by the media, looking for white supremacists and loony conspiracy theorists. Putting Birthers on TV does not mean that many Republicans are losing their grip on reality. Jon Stewart had a great bit last night, demonstrating how poor the internet surveys are, producing results in the 90% range.

Still, we can look at these developments in two ways:

  1. The Republicans are spinning out of control, so much so that it is hard to imagine any viable candidate emerging in a few years, as independents and Democrats (as well as non-white ethnic groups) are likely to run very quickly in the opposite direction. So, perhaps Democrats should enjoy the rantings of the extreme-right wing.
  2. Timothy McVeigh. That is, when Bill Clinton was President, and the extreme right wing spewed all kinds of venom, it created a context that just may have facilitated the biggest domestic terrorist effort in recent US history. Will the new generation of militias produce significantly more violence and kill innocents like the previous one?
All the work I have read (including by my own students) indicates that as long as the US political system provides access to all, those that feel disenfrachised by the recession and by the outcomes of the last election will not be able to gain much ground. There will probably be some more violence in the next 4-8 years, but it will probably not threaten the stability of the political system and will certainly be a lesser cause of death than the usual ones--obesity, cancer, traffic, smoking.

So, how should we feel about all of this? We should be concerned because the extremists are abetted by 24 hour news channels that need to feed the beast and because innocents will pay with their lives. However, we should be fairly confident that this too shall pass, as most terrorist organizations have a high rate of infant mortality--they die within the first year of their existence.

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