I want to begin this piece with a word of praise for Nancy Pelosi. In an interview with the Washington Post , she rejected (for now, at least) calls to impeach Donald Trump. But it’s not just what she decided that’s important; it’s also how she explained it. Here were her key words: “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country.”
Taking her words at face value, Pelosi is doing something that more politicians should do when making a momentous decision — considering the consequences not just for one’s partisan tribe but also for the health of the American body politic. Striking this balance increasingly isn’t just a matter of political positioning; it’s a national necessity.
This morning the New York Times’ Thomas Edsall published an important essay highlighting a new study that analyzed the extent of “lethal mass partisanship.” As Edsall observes, the paper contained some disturbing statistics. Among them, “42 percent of the people in each party view the opposition as ‘downright evil.’” A stunning 20 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans believe “we’d be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party in the public today just died.” And if the opposing party wins the 2020 election, 18 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Republicans “feel violence would be justified.”
We hear quite a bit about “dehumanizing rhetoric” in American public life. Well, it appears that tens of millions of Americans now have dehumanizing beliefs. “One out of five Republicans and Democrats agree with the statement that their political adversaries ‘lack the traits to be considered fully human — they behave like animals.’”
I wonder where those numbers would be if our nation hadn’t been extraordinarily lucky in the last two years. Yes, lucky. Imagine our national culture if the congressional baseball shooter hadn’t been immediately confronted by two brave Capitol Police officers. Imagine a nation where the Charlottesville terrorist kept plowing through the ranks of protesters, or where the Trump superfan bomber actually succeeded in making functioning explosives.