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Opinion

Democracy Works: The roots of radical partisanship

Lilliana Mason and her book, "Radical American Partisanship"
Jenna Spinelle
/
Lilliana Mason and her book, "Radical American Partisanship"

Political violence is rising in the United States, with Republicans and Democrats divided along racial and ethnic lines that spurred massive bloodshed and democratic collapse earlier in the nation’s history. The January 6, 2021 insurrection and the partisan responses that ensued are a vivid illustration of how deep these currents run. How did American politics become so divided that we cannot agree on how to categorize an attack on our own Capitol?

In the new book "Radical American Partisanship," Lilliana Mason and Nathan Kalmoe bring together four years of studying radicalism among ordinary American partisans. They draw on new evidence—as well as insights from history, psychology, and political science—to put our present partisan fractiousness in context and to explain broad patterns of political and social change.

Mason joins us this week to discuss the findings and the rocky path toward making the United States a fully-realized multiracial democracy She is an associate professor of political science at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University. She is also author of "Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity."

Episode Transcript
Michael Berkman
From the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University. I'm Michael Berkman.

Candis Watts Smith 
I'm Candis Watts Smith.

Jenna Spinelle
I'm Jenna Spinelle, and welcome to Democracy Works. This week, we are talking with Lilliana Mason, associate professor of political science at the SNF, a gore Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and co author of the new book Radical American Partisanship: Mapping Violent Hostility, Its Causes and the Consequences for Democracy, which she co-authors with Nathan Kalmoe. And, you know, this idea of political violence that's central to the book, you know, Lily really argues both in the book and in the interview that to the extent that we know the history of political violence, which is to say, not a lot, it's often something that we think that we have moved beyond as a country, particularly as we are recording this, President Biden has just signed the Emmett Till anti lynching act. And I think that that sort of brings a lot of these things to a head about your reckoning with this history of violence that we really have not done a good job of heretofore.

Michael Berkman
Yeah, Jenna, she, Lilliana Mason and her co author have a terrific chapter in here on the history of political violence in the United States. And of course, lynching comes up in that chapter. Remarkable that we have finally passed anti lynching legislation, anti lynching legislation has been on the agenda for many, many years, and really has played, I think, a pretty critical role in understanding some of the civil rights struggles and some of how the political parties have responded to civil rights over the years. And that Lilliana Mason has done such a terrific job now in two books, talking about the consequences of it as the as the parties have polarized more and more, and largely over racial issues.

Candis Watts Smith 
Yeah, I think that just kind of having Lily and Nathan's work here right now, you know, helps us to understand why an anti lynching bill might still be even necessary in the 21st century. And just just to clarify that, we might have seen more elite support for anti lynching in the 1940s. But that black folks, including Ida B. Wells, Walter White, the NAACP, so on and so forth, made efforts to introduce anti lynching legislation to Congress decades before that. And between that time, and today, there had been at least 200, denials, rejections of Congress of anti lynching. If you look on social media, though, I think it's really telling right because people are like, Why do we need this? Like, who, who does lynching anymore? And also, isn't that already a crime. But I think it's just one important to know that since 2000, there have been eight suspected suspected lynchings, just in Mississippi. And so you know, just kind of thinking about the idea that violence is really kind of part and parcel in American history. And Lily and Nathan do a really excellent job of kind of tying, tying that, or let's say, I'm showing the through line across across time, so we can understand that, you know, the violence that we see at January six is not an aberration, or that the unite the right rally was not an aberration.

Michael Berkman
In a remarkable kind of amnesia, Mitch McConnell has spoken about how there's no racial history to the filibuster. Yet, without the filibuster, we would have had anti lynching legislation years and years and years ago, I suspect, it has been a central target of the filibuster over the years. And I guess, you know, to transition to more broadly to the topic of the book, I, I guess it's this speaks to the acceptance of political violence in this country that there's been so much resistance to it.

Candis Watts Smith 
Yeah, I mean, the thing is, and one of the things I think is really important about the book, radical partisans is that it asks questions that we assumed we did not need to ask anymore. So, you know, if we don't think that violence is a problem, then there's no reason to ask if violence is a problem. And so I think questions around would you support political violence? is kind of in that category of questions that we didn't need to ask anymore. But turns out that when you ask about it, we can learn the nature level causes, and really think about the ramifications of even a small proportion of Americans, you know, at least willing to say out loud, that violence in politics is legitimate. Yeah. And so you know, needless to say, we are not above the fray of violence and political violence in particular. And so I am thankful for people like Lily and Nate lurk, doing the work of pinpointing the nature level and potential consequences of political violence right now.

Jenna Spinelle
Yeah. And there's so much to talk about, and Lily does such a great job in the interview of explaining this work. So let's get to it. Here is the interview with Lilliana Mason.

Jenna Spinelle
Lilliana Mason, welcome to democracy works. Thanks for joining us today.

Lilliana Mason
Thank you so much for having me.

Jenna Spinelle
Excited to talk with you about your new book radical American partisanship, which you co author with Nathan Kalmoe. But before we dive too far into that I know your book uncivil agreements. We've talked about it on this show before I'm sure some of our listeners are familiar with it. I think I might have even talked with some of our listeners about it. I'm wondering if you could just start by talking about the through lines are the connections from that book to this one?

Lilliana Mason
Yeah, that's a great question. The so the uncivil agreement book was really trying to look at what was driving American partisans to dislike one another. And there was a whole debate going on at the time about what is polarization and are Americans polarized. And that project was really meant to say, you know, there's really two different kinds of polarization, we can either be polarized on our on our policy preferences, like what the government should do, or we can be polarized on how we feel about each other. And those two things don't have to be connected to each other, right? Because we have a huge amount of theory and literature from social psychology and sociology, that looks at intergroup conflict across, you know, the whole world and throughout history, and looks at why groups might hate each other for reasons completely other than, like, you know, the role of federal government or, you know, tax structure. And so that that book was trying to use those series to help understand why American partisans might hate each other, and still yet hold relatively moderate policy positions. But the limitation of that book was really that the questions I was asking to determine whether people hate each other, were actually relatively mild. You know, so I was asking things like, you know, how would you feel about living next door to someone from the other party? Or, you know, how would you feel about being close friends with someone from the other party, and we use what are called feeling thermometers, which is like, you know, zero, you feel really cold or 100, you feel really warm? How would you rate people in the other party, and and then in a, in a 2016, Political Psychology conference, actually, my co author on radical American partisanship, Nathan Calico, and I just met up at the conference, and what I was actually right in the middle of writing uncivil agreement. And he was in the middle of writing his last book with ballots and bullets in which he was talking about partisanship during the American Civil War. So the role of partisanship in organizing real violence during the American Civil War. And as we had this conversation, we started sort of thinking, Well, if the parties could organize, you know, brutal violence during the Civil War, what are we doing right now? And we're only asking questions about like, do you want to be next door to somebody? Right, we're not actually asking anybody, the potentially really radical feelings they might have about their own party and people in the other party. And that's, you know, really based on this idea of American you know, political science thinking about, you know, we think of partisanship as a pretty benign thing, or, or it's like an organizing, you know, tool for people to be able to vote more easily. And, and so we've never, ever really asked people kind of the more extreme possibilities of their attitudes about people in the other party. So so really, Nathan and I just really started brainstorming about what are the potential attitudes that could be out there that we don't even know about yet. And that's really how this project the second project started.

Jenna Spinelle
Right? Well, and that speaks to you know, you do write in radical American partisanship about you have a whole chapter devoted to the history of of political violence in America and about some of the blind spots I believe is your term about you know why political scientists and others have perhaps been In reluctant to, to really engage with that history and ask those deeper questions, I think we do tend to focus a lot more on the, you know, how do we feel about living next to someone or, you know, would you date someone? Or would you let your child marry someone from the opposing party, those types of things. But I wonder if you could say more about those blind spots. And you know, what you found about the reluctance to engage with some of these more radical ideas and questions?

Lilliana Mason
Yeah, so I mean, part of it is just an accident of history, the way that American political scientists developed the concept of partisanship, and honestly, the measure that we use today of partisanship, it all happened during research that was conducted during the 1950s. And during that period of time, there wasn't very strong partisanship, Eisenhower didn't even know which party he was gonna run under, as you know, when he ran for president, it was sort of just a random choice that he, you know, chose to be a Democrat or a Republican. And, and so and people really didn't think of people on the other party as enemies. At that point, there was a lot of there was actually so much. So, so little of a distinction between the parties, in the 1950s, that the American Political Science Association put out a report saying, you know, it's really important that the parties become more distinct. If people need very different cues coming from different parties, we need to know that they stand for different things. And, and so there was, it was during that period of time that we set that, you know, the sort of founders of the political thought around American partisanship came up with their theories of partisanship. So and then we just sort of used that ever since, you know, only in really since, you know, the the 2010s did people start thinking, hey, maybe people have stronger feelings than this. And, you know, maybe people are using or are thinking about politics, not in a rational way, where they're, you know, choosing the party, because they like their policies, but instead, there are connecting emotionally, and socially and psychologically to the party. And that creates the implication that, well, actually, when people connect socially and emotionally to a group, all kinds of other things happen, including potentially dehumanization of people, the other party, vilification of people on the other party, and really extreme attitudes that just, we just as political scientists hadn't even considered asking people about because we kind of assumed it wasn't going to be there. When we when we started asking about it.

Jenna Spinelle
Can you walk us through some of the examples that you'd give in the book of who the radical partisans are, you know, what we know about them and perhaps why they are or how they formed that connection to their their political identity.

Lilliana Mason
So the the way that we are thinking about radical partisanship, first of all, is we ask people questions, but we have two main concepts. The first is what we call moral disengagement, which is a set of attitudes that usually in other places, and context is our attitudes that precede mass violence. So they're basically you know, vilification so people on the other party are just wrong for politics. They're downright evil dehumanization, where they shouldn't be treated like humans, because they behave like animals. Those are the types of attitudes that that often precede mass violence, because they allow people to harm members of another group, without feeling morally bad, right? They can, they don't have to worry about the consequences for themselves morally, because they've already distanced themselves morally from this other group of people. And the second set of attitudes are actually violent attitudes. So you know, to what extent is it okay to engage in violence to achieve your political goals? And is it okay to threaten leaders from the other party? Is it okay to threaten regular people from the other party? So those are the two main categories of what we're calling radical partisanship. And the what we found is that there's two main predictors in general of those attitudes. One is just regular aggressiveness so unrelated to politics, people who say, you know, when they answer a question, like, you know, have you ever been in a fight before? Do you get angry easily, those types of unpolitical non political attitudes, that are just kind of people who are just aggressive, they tend to be more likely to endorse these attitudes, these morally disengaged and violent attitudes. So we think of that is actually kind of like a little bit of evidence that these scales are measuring what we think they're measuring, right? It's like aggressive people tend to be more proving violence. But the second thing that's consistent predictor of these attitudes is just a really strong identification with a party. So we ask questions like, when you talk about your party, you know, to what extent you say we rather than say, so it's really about a psychological identification with the party. And the people who feel really identified with their party are much more likely to say, you know, to either dehumanize or vilify and also to endorse violent Um, violent action for political for political goals. So those are like the main, the main consistent predictors that we see over and over and over again in all of our surveys. And they can be actually, there's, there's other relationships maybe we can talk about later than that actually, you know, kind of narrowed down even further, but those are the two major, the two major predictors.

Jenna Spinelle
That brings me to, you know, how much of what we've been talking about as partisan animosity is really just, you know, centuries long animosity about race and gender and those types of things just sort of wrapped in a different container now.

Lilliana Mason
Yeah, that's really I think one of for me, one of the central findings of this book is, is one thing that we did was to ask people questions about racial resentment and, and sexism and and sort of assess the level of people's. The racial resentment scale, for example, is really a set of beliefs about whether black Americans are have been held back by systemic racism. And whether people believe that to be true. And there's a sexism scale that basically says, you know, women don't appreciate what men do for them. And women always blame men for things that they're, you know, that happened to them. And what we found, particularly in the case of racial resentment, was that there's a really strong relationship between moral disengagement among Republicans and levels of racial resentment. So the Republicans who were the highest in racial resentment, we're the most likely to to vilify and dehumanize Democrats, and the Republicans who are lowest in racial resentment. We're actually some of the most tolerant people in our in our entire sample. And that's partially because on average, Republicans score much higher than Democrats on the racial resentment scale. So for Republicans who are low in racial resentment that's actually across pressure. It's something they have in common with Democrats. So it allows them to sort of humanize Democrats to a larger extent. For Democrats, there's the opposite relationship, not as strong, but still the opposite relationship where Democrats who are low in racial resentment tend to be the most likely to vilify and dehumanize Republicans. So it really does seem to be that there is that one of the major and for Republicans, actually, racial resentment is the strongest predictor of moral disengagement from Democrats. So it really does seem that one of the things that's happening is that Democrats and Republicans are hating each other over this specific issue of social equality, right, the traditional social hierarchy were to women. And they also this this relationship also holds for Republicans on the sexism scale. So we're women belong on the traditional on the social hierarchy today, where where do Where do non white Americans belong on the on the social hierarchy today? And that, that question really seems to be driving a lot of the animosity that we're seeing, partially because the parties have sorted into these kinds of identity based groups, and with, you know, sort of white Christian men being in the Republican party that has really centralized the question of status, and whether or not we've made enough progress to be a more egalitarian, multi ethnic democracy, or whether we need to do more or or whether we've gone too far, which is, which is sort of the push and pull between Democrats and Republicans is sort of the central question that they seem to be arguing about.

Jenna Spinelle
Right. And I, you know, I want to come back to this when we when we talk about some some solutions and where we go from here. But, you know, I also wonder about your thinking about how how this, how these behaviors manifest themselves in in each of the parties, you do write about some symmetries that you observed between Republicans and Democrats on on some of these things. I wonder if you could talk more about that. And then also, you know, how you think about this notion that this is this is a both sides problem, like how do you both talk about symmetries without sort of going into, you know, perhaps a false both sides or, you know, both parties are equally culpable type of framing?

Lilliana Mason
Yeah, so in terms of the cemetery is what we what we have found, so we started collecting data on these questions in 27, November of 2017. And then we collected data, you know, over a dozen datasets across until the final data collection was February of 2021. And what we found that is that across that entire period of time, Democrats and Republicans were relatively similar in their in their attitudes of moral disengagement and political violence. Republicans were slightly higher throughout the whole period on moral disengagement. So they were, you know, slightly more vilifying and dehumanizing of Democrats. And actually, for much for most of the Trump administration, Democrats were slightly higher than Republicans on approval, violence. But again, those numbers were very low across the board. So we're talking 10 to 20%. of Americans, American partisans agreeing that violence is acceptable. So that's still, you know, 80 to 90% of Americans are saying no. And then after the 2020 election, we saw that reverse so that Republicans became more approving of violence. So it does look like there's some element of when you're in power, you don't approve of violence, because violence inherently changes the status quo and challenges the status quo. But so yeah, so we're seeing kind of similar patterns through across this period of time, among Democrats and Republicans. But the really crucial thing that we found is it's motivated by completely different things. Right. So for Republicans, these attitudes are motivated by high racial resentment, high hostile sexism. For Democrats, they're motivated by low racial resentment, and sexism has nothing to do with it for Democrats. And so it's it's not that they are equally radical. For just the same reasons, it's that that the radicalism is being driven by the inherent conflict in this argument, right, it's that it's that they're Democrats, Republicans are taking two sides of a very passionate argument that Americans have historically been very bad at talking about without resorting to violence. And historically, when Americans try to talk about, you know, civil rights and gender equality, it tends to be met with violence, or has historically tended to be met with violence. And now we're trying to do it, again, organized along party lines. And so, you know, the hackles are up in both Democrats and Republicans. But the moral interpretation of this is not a is not equal, right. The what we're seeing is essentially a republican party that's pushing for a sort of going back in time in terms of gender and racial equality, removing a lot of the progress that we're undoing a lot of the progress that we've made as a country on gender, and racial inequality, and, and therefore, you know, sort of forcing the Democratic Party or also the Democratic Party has also, you know, moved forward in terms of progressive attitudes, and specifically racial attitudes. And so the Democratic Party is standing even more, even more firmly on on their positions.

Jenna Spinelle
We also have seen, you know, condemnation of violence, both from President Biden and from former President Trump, I know you your research also looked at what impact or perhaps lack of impact that these actions and this this rhetoric has had, on, you know, these, you know, moral disagreements and, you know, actual propensity for violence. I wonder if you could tell us more about that.

Lilliana Mason
Yeah, this is so important is one of the things we tried to do in the book was figure out, are there any interventions we can, we can try to reduce these views, radical attitudes. And, and in particular, what we found was that elite rhetoric, some messages from Joe Biden, or Trump could actually reduce people's approval of violence. And specifically, among those strong partisans, who were previously most susceptible to, to, you know, violent to proving violence, those individuals are most likely to listen to a message to messages from from leaders and to and to actually respond with, you know, sort of by by kind of taking a step back. And in fact, what we saw was that it was both Democrats and Republicans that responded to messages from particular Joe Biden, we think Democrats were responding because he's the party leader, and Republicans were responding, because they actually were surprised, right, that there is there is a misperception among a lot of Americans, most American partisans about people in the other party, right, assuming that they're much more violent than they actually are. And when you correct that misperception, they tend to become less violent themselves. So hearing Joe Biden say things like violence is never acceptable. That actually pacified Republicans as well, because they thought, Oh, well, actually, they're not as bad as we thought. But the really important thing is that is that that rhetoric really, really matters. It has it has the potential to truly reduce violence among people. We found this repeatedly in our in our, in our survey experiments. And, and it's, you know, the, the lack of these types of kind of pacifying messages during violent events that we see from leaders in recent in recent times is is really glaring because we know that if if they were to condemn violence, it would help, right. And so when we see when we see partisans, not condemning violence, in particular on the right recently, that is actually a really dangerous thing for them not to condemn violence, because we know that it can pacify partisan attitudes.

Jenna Spinelle
Right. So I want to move now to talking about some other solutions and other kinds of ideas there. I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about like, what what The goal here in your mind, what are we trying to solve for? You know, we know that polarization in of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, are we looking to, you know, turn down the the level of radicalization, or, you know, how do you think about that larger question?

Lilliana Mason
Yeah, we try to make this, we try to make this clear in the book, that, you know, it's, it isn't always bad to have polarization, right. If you have one party that's drifting into authoritarianism. You don't want the other party to get closer to authoritarianism to reduce polarization between the two parties, right, you hope that one party will stay where they are and defend democracy. So, you know, the, the polarization itself isn't exactly the problem. In, in, in our view, what we're, you know, what we're seeing is what we'd like to see, honestly, and this is something that we are kind of are unapologetic about his, we'd like to see more progress towards a more egalitarian, multi, multi ethnic democracy, you know, sort of actually fulfilling the promises of the of the 14th and 15th amendments of the Constitution. And, and so and doing, you know, you know, an understanding that there is systemic prejudice, and honestly, violence, right, we one of the things that we know, is that racial and gender relationships have been an, you know, inherently by inter racial and gender environment, conflicts have been inherently violent threats throughout American history, we're not at all trying to say, you know, radical Democrats are, you know, exactly the same as Radical Republicans. And instead, what we really want to do is point out that this is the argument that we're having, right? It's not just a partisan argument, it's not just Republicans versus Democrats, and therefore, both sides are equally, you know, to be taken seriously. Instead, there the Democrats and Republicans happened to be fighting over a very deep a divisive question. And, and once that was one side, really trying to make more progress on the other side, really trying to take us back in time. And we see this with, you know, the CRT school board debates and, and, you know, don't say gay laws and sort of this retrenchment among the Republican Party, you're trying to bring us back in time and sort of undo progress, and Democrats trying to push forward. And really that, you know, the the end goal is to move forward, the end goal is to be a better, more egalitarian country. And just to understand that the place that we are right now is a place of intense conflict. Because making that progress is not only difficult, I think it's unprecedented, right? To actually have a fully egalitarianism, multi ethnic democracy. No one's ever done that before, I mean, anywhere. And so so it's really difficult. And we understand that it's going to be very hard and and messy and complicated and probably violent. But but to make sure that that we understand that it's violent because of this, right? It's violent, because that that because of this, of this particular, divide that because the divide over equalities is always a very complicated messy space.

Jenna Spinelle
Would adding more party options or, you know, having more of a multi party system help any of any of what we've just been talking about,

Lilliana Mason
I think, three answers to that. The first is the the two party system does make things more antagonistic, because it turns politics into a zero sum competition. So that by you know, when one party wins, the other party loses by definition, and so it becomes this very dire, every election, is this like, dire competition for status? The second thing is that yeah, I mean, multiple parties defuse that tension, because they're often in multi party systems. You have coalition's and so you know, one party might be a coalition member in one government, but inside an opposition member in a different government, but at least you have that kind of knowledge and memory of having been allies at some point. But So the third thing that I'll say is that the the two party system does one more really problematic thing, which is, it can empower a small minority of Americans, if they want to take over one of the political party. And and so the group of people that I talked about earlier who in 2011, hated, you know, March traditionally marginalized groups. That's only about 20 to 30% of Americans. But because they were all drawn to Trump, they have effectively taken control of the Republican Party. They're only about half of the Republican Party, even they're not the whole Republican Party. But they've taken over the mechanisms of power within that entire political party, which gives them control over half of our political system. So now we have 25% of Americans controlling half of our political system, giving them really disproportionate power. And if there were a multi party system, for example, they would be a far right wing extremist party, right? They would be 20 percent of the country, they would have their own political party, but they would never fully be in power. And in because of our two party system, and because of our winner take all electoral electoral institutions, that 25% of Americans can can control all of our government, right can take the presidency, the House and the Senate, and the Supreme Court, just just through, you know, close election, and, and the fact that we give much more electoral weight to rural areas, which is where a lot of these people tend to live. And so, so that's one of the big problems with the two party system is that it allows these small groups to kind of, to kind of, you know, take control of the of the reins of power without very much electoral support. But but so that's, and that's really what we're seeing in the Republican Party right now with a lot of Republicans who disagree with them, sort of afraid to say that and afraid that they're going to lose primaries if they speak out against this, this minority of Americans.

Jenna Spinelle
So Lily you've just described, and we are not in for an easy period. And you do also talk in the book about, you know, how people who value democracy should should think about that and should prepare for this next period, however long it lasts, I, I would I think all of our listeners would put themselves into the camp of people who value democracy. So you know, how might you suggest that they think about and prepare for what will? What lies ahead?

Lilliana Mason
Yeah, that's a really hard question. You know, ultimately, there are, you know, there are some conversations that just won't work, you know, like, getting into an argument with someone who doesn't want critical race theory taught in your elementary school is probably not a useful conversation. The, you know, the, the most productive things that we were able to find in our research was really just regular people trying to turn down the temperature when things got heated. So if you're, you know, if you're a witness to an interaction, that's, that's getting really unproductively, you know, angry and potentially violent. We did find that even regular people can reduce violent attitudes, and even just want, you know, a random person on the internet coming out and saying, like, Hey, this is not the way that we talk about politics. This is not how democracy works, right? We, democracy is based on a peaceful transition of power, we are supposed to be having conversations about these things. And and, you know, taking it personally and getting all heated is probably not the best, isn't probably not the best way to deal with this. Just having some voices out there that are kind of trying to turn the temperature down can really help. The other thing is that one of the main problems we have right now, as I mentioned before, is that partisans and particularly Republicans are really severely overestimating the level of radicalism in people in the other party. And, and that creates a lot more approval of violence. And you know, one of our surveys, we ask people, What if the other party started the violence, then would you approve of violence and at that, and that like, doubles the approval of violence? So it goes from 20% to 45% of people who say they disapprove of violence men. And and so, you know, bringing people back to reality is another really important thing. Right. The other side isn't as bad as you think they are. They're not as radical as you think they are. Ironically, right now, 30% of Democrats are worried about the future of democracy and 60% of Republicans are, even though right, the what the legislation we've seen in state legislatures, for example, has been extremely on the Republican side of pulling back democratic practices and voting, voting rules. So in general, I think it's, it's more about, you know, trying to bring everything back to reality, and, and to kind of tone down the temperature while still having productive conversations. You know, ultimately, that's the only way that we're gonna that we're actually going to move forward.

Jenna Spinelle
Well, Lily, there's so much else that we could talk about lots of really interesting data and analysis in your new book, radical American partisanship. I hope our listeners will pick it up. And thank you so much for joining us today to talk about it.

Lilliana Mason
It was my pleasure. Thanks for the great conversation.

Candis Watts Smith 
Thank you, Jenna, for that great interview with Lily. You know, one of the things that stands out to me and Lily mentioned this briefly is that a lot of what we're seeing seems so surprising to so many people. And I think that on the one hand, perhaps we think we're above the fray and we know we're not but So some of the things that we're seeing are, are not surprising if we see patterns if we know the patterns that we've seen across history. So for example, I think that the finding that a lot of people at the January six needs direction, were white collar, middle class professional people. But historically speaking, we've seen that political violence and racial violence has had the tacit consent of white elites of political parties. And to be quite honest, that spectacles of political violence have historically been helpful for those kinds of elites.

Michael Berkman
Yeah, it is really one of the striking things about January 6, as the trials progress. And as we come to learn more about the people that were involved in them is that, you know, they're not people that we would have thought would be involved. And there are people that had jobs, and they were people that left their jobs and travel to Washington DC, not necessarily for the intent of doing this, but certainly got themselves easily caught up in it, and willing to willing to take remarkably violent steps. A lot of the focus tends to be on the proud boys, the Oathkeepers, some of these violent militia groups, or violent far right groups that we know were involved, but they were actually the minority, not the majority of what was going on on January 6. And I, you know, it's not new. But it also does suggest, to me a kind of normalization, political violence, that we're increasingly I don't know if I can, I say, increasingly seen in our politics or seen in our politics, and maybe much more explicit sorts of way than we have in a very, very long time.

Candis Watts Smith 
I think that just kind of being aware of patterns will help us to kind of have a better understanding of what the possibilities are. So, you know, when you mentioned the proud boys, one of the things that I thought about is how in the past political parties and the Democratic Party, especially during Reconstruction, Orca, organized militias, they organized militias that in some cases had full scale Kuta ties, at local, you know, in local governments, for example, in Wilmington in 1898. And so, you know, I think, I think it's important for us to keep in mind that, you know, history doesn't repeat, but it rhymes, and that we can learn from the patterns. And so, you know, I think in that we should keep in mind that what we tend to do is to say, like, people were just saying stuff, they don't really mean it. And so we can downplay not just the actions, because very few Republicans condemned the violence that happened on January 6, but the rhetoric matters as well. And the rhetoric, the threat of violence is enough to prevent people from entering public life.

Michael Berkman
And I your last point is, a very important one, because we're, we've we're getting to a point where we are seeing people step down from political office, or refuse to get involved in political office, you mentioned the school board's, and there have been several cases of people stepping away because of the abuse they suffer. And the threats that they suffered, not necessarily violence, but violent threats, over whatever issues of the day it is trans rights, or CRT or whatever, whatever are the COVID restrictions, but also and potentially maybe even more concerning to our democracy, local election workers, who are refusing to come back into another election who are quitting, who are living in fear of what the next election holds, because of the extent to which political leaders are going to rile up people against them. And I know both you and I have talked about how we cringed during the hearings recently. For a for the Supreme Court Justice Jackson about what when he named her school the school that her kids went to,

Candis Watts Smith 
Yeah, when he was asking all of the questions about the curriculum of the school, or children used to attend and therefore opening up that school and the parents of that school and the children of that school to whatever people might be out there.

Michael Berkman
Obviously a tiny minority of the population, but in a social media age, they can do an incredible amount of harm with that kind of information. And, and I think they're just a lots of kinds of examples of political elite sort of flirting, just too close to the line, and not doing the exact opposite, which is taking a step back and thinking, Whoa, we're at a time when it's not that hard to get things going, and what can we do to be responsible?

Candis Watts Smith 
Yeah, one of the things that Lily brought up that I think is worthy of considering is that one of the major findings is that racial resentment and hostile sexism predicts radical partisanship for Republicans. And conversely, really low levels of racial resentment and hostile racism doesn't have very much work to do Can't you know, serves to radicalize I guess, maybe we can say, Democrats or we tend to see radical partisanship among those who have low levels of racial resentment among Democrats. And so you know, I think it's also important to consider that the motivating factors for the propensity towards violence are completely different for the partisans. And so, you know, I think it's important for us to know that this is not like a both sides kind of thing. But that what we're seeing is that people are willing to fight over whether we either move toward a more inclusive multiracial democracy, or conversely, are willing to use political violence to move backwards.

Michael Berkman
Yes, well, it's also not a both sides, because democratic political leaders are just more responsible about these types of things. I mean, Joe Biden tries to lower the temperature whenever he can, and I can't really think of democratic elected officials, even more extreme ones, who are willing to use sort of violent rhetoric and who flirt around the edges of violence or of activating their supporters into violence. To the extent that some on the Republican side too, and I mean, I don't see any reason for us to practice some kind of false both sides. I'm here. I mean, we're, and the FBI has talked to about how most of the threats of political violence now is coming from right wing extremists. Right, right wing, extremist groups have different cons.

Candis Watts Smith 
One of the things that I do think that we need to kind of put a pin in maybe for future conversations, is this kind of aspect of moral disengagement, the vilification of the other side. And so, you know, maybe we don't maybe we don't see democratic elites wielding the tool of threat of violence or actual violence. But the kind of idea that our opponent is not an equal but an enemy is an important step, potential important step toward what could be a dangerous situation. Yes, absolutely.

Michael Berkman
And, and you can, you can envision situations, I think, especially after the after the next presidential election, for example, if controversies develop about vote counting, yeah, example. Where things can turn pretty ugly on the other side is, as well. And I think a lot will depend on how political leaders respond to this situation. And I could also envision situations that just get out of hand of political leaders. Of course, I spend a lot of time thinking about really bad things that can happen. One thing that I clearly take from the findings in this book, is that the capacity is there.

Candis Watts Smith 
So I mean, for me, I think, generally speaking, when we stepped back, and I set this again, and I think that Lily and Nathan's book does really well, is to put what we're seeing in context of a longer historical bend, you know, a historical story about, you know, our trials and triumphs are a rocky road toward democracy, that, you know, violence is a normal component, but we also have to consider the ways in which elites choose to leverage it or choose to dampen it down to produce better, you know, future policies, you know, or even just norm around what is allowed and not allowed, you know, on our trip toward democracy.

Michael Berkman
Okay, well, thank you again to Lily and Jennifer, terrific interview on a really fascinating a second book for her. This has been Michael Berkman for Democracy Works.

Candis Watts Smith 
And I'm Candis Watts Smith. Thanks for listening.