Thursday, May 2, 2013

Whither the Social Contract?

A startling new poll was released yesterday by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind:

Startling poll results

FDU surveyed 863 registered voters nationwide and discovered that 29% believe an armed revolution may be necessary in the next few years to protect 'our' liberties. Buried within those aggregate numbers was an even more startling statistic: 44% of Republicans think an armed rebellion may be necessary. (Somewhat more reassuring, albeit still alarming, 18% of Dems felt that armed revolution may be necessary.)  In other words, more than 2 out of 5 registered Republican voters now thinks armed rebellion may be necessary.

Keep in mind these are not undocumented immigrants or even permanent residents. These are American citizens and registered voters, fully enfranchised within the existing system, who now see violence as a possible solution.

I think we should be very alarmed by this.

Historically, Americans have resolved their political differences at the ballot boxes and to a lesser but still significant measure through the courts. The only time large numbers of people in the nation has resorted to open, armed rebellion (1861-65), some two million Americans were killed and many more wounded.

What these new poll numbers tell me is that the social contract may be starting to break down, that unwritten contract that says we may disagree and disagree vehemently but we resolve our differences peacefully and without violence. We have other examples in the recent past to counsel us: Rwanda and Bosnia. Those are examples of societies that eschewed the non-violent political process and instead turned to violence to resolve differences. One shudders to imagine an America that devolves to that. But 44% of Republicans think it may be necessary to become just that.

I am not sure what can be done to reverse this now. My thoughts ramble and do not cohere. I would like to see President Obama, Vice President Biden, Speaker Boehner, Minoority Leader Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell convene to tell all Americans, Dem and Repub alike, that political violence is unacceptable, no matter whence it originates and, more important, is ineffective. And to warn that 44% of Republicans that, just like in 1861, any armed rebellion will be met by an implacable and unified federal resolve to suppress it.

But, for all I know, Boehner and McConnell are part of that 44%. That's what truly scares me.

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