Will violent rhetoric trigger a proliferation of political violence? Qui vivra verra: They who live shall see.
As Lincoln said in his Springfield Farewell Address, there are reasons to confidently hope that all will yet be well. But commentators don’t book many media appearances or sell many books by reminding people how often trends revert to the mean. Movements rise and fall for all kinds of reasons—and sometimes, seemingly, for no reason at all. The age of the angry might be followed by the age of the exhausted middle. Or perhaps the shift will make obvious sense: a loss of enthusiasm the moment average people are called upon to make real, material sacrifices for “the cause.” Talk is cheap; destruction and disorder are expensive.
And who would be less willing to suffer hardship than the lawyers, writers, and intellectuals leading the charge for conservative Jacobinism? For all the new Right’s talk about “grifters” in Washington, D.C., the hottest grift in town is the new Right itself. The activist Charlie Kirk, who was asked at an event last year when conservatives would get to “use the guns” and “kill these people,” hesitated. He didn’t denounce violence per se; he just counseled that the time was not quite right for it.
For a successful salesman like Kirk, the time for violence will always be just over the horizon.
It would be nice to stop there; but after Lincoln left Springfield, we know what happened next. When extremists who are not in on the grift decide that it’s time to “use the guns,” neither Kirk, Bongino, nor anyone else will be able to recage the tiger. The Jacobins will reap the whirlwind, as Jacobins do. It’s hardly unreasonable to assume that dehumanizing speech, repeated often enough, will at length give rise to dehumanizing conduct. There is a similar but simpler principle: tit for tat. The more the Right plays with the idea of burning the world down to destroy its enemies, the more legitimate that idea becomes on the left.
This is not to say that the Left is doing its part to head off catastrophe. In thrall to identity politics, tolerant of the riots that suit them, and addicted to passing “transformative,” albeit unpopular, legislation, the original anti-Burkeans appear utterly uninterested in adopting the political caution that the Right has discarded. Woke corporations, ideologically non-diverse universities, and the mainstream media are trucking in the soil from which the Right’s paranoia grows. What is worse, the Democratic Party is making little effort to keep the militant Right out of power. The data on this point are clear: The party is not offering a vision that independents and disaffected conservatives see as a sober alternative to the Republicans.
“The whole earth, perpetually steeped in blood,” Maistre wrote, “is nothing but a vast altar, upon which all that is living must be sacrificed without end, without measure, without pause, until the consummation of things, until evil is extinct, until the death of death.” It is up to each of us to prove him wrong.
— Corbin K. Barthold in Don’t Hang Mike Pence!