I was discussing the recent shootings with my mom, and pointed out that I can’t help but feel that the widespread use of crosshair graphics and “take to the streets” type language might be a contributor to such things. She pointed out that this rhetoric is not particularly exclusive to the right wing. That’s true, both “sides” in US politics have tended to it of late. She also gave me a word for it; “eliminationist rhetoric”.
I’ve got a few loosely-connected thoughts on this.
First, it doesn’t matter who else was doing it; Sarah Palin’s map with crosshairs over a list of people she dislikes was an inappropriate communication in and of itself, and no one who talks like that, let alone does so habitually, is contributing to our debates in a positive way. And that goes just as much for everyone else. But I think the most important thing for us to do is stop with this “but they do it too” response. No one cares, or at least, no one should. If your candidate is doing something that is objectively inappropriate or stupid or likely to lead to harm, you should be actively campaigning to get that stopped and changed — not pointing out that someone else does it worse.
It’s important to remember that people don’t take criticism from “outsiders” nearly as well as criticism from people they recognize as on their “side”. What that means is that, if you’re a Democrat, and your response to someone pointing out eliminationist rhetoric used by a Democrat is to complain about Republicans doing the same thing, you are making it worse. You’re increasing the sense of persecution and harassment the Republicans feel, by being an outsider criticizing them for something people on your side are also doing. You’re also justifying and defending behavior which is genuinely harmful. Knock it off!
But there’s a secondary question. Is eliminationist rhetoric really that bad?
Yes. Yes it is. Humans are equipped by nature with an astounding variety of psychological defense mechanisms to help us view ourselves as good and other people as bad, and to help us discount harms done to “them” because “they” aren’t as important as we are. They deserve these bad outcomes, because they’re bad, unlike us. And this rhetoric goes straight to the core of that instinct and starts pressing the reward lever.
Here’s the reality: Neither the people who voted for, nor who voted against, the health care bill last year were out to destroy America, or were idiots, or were fools, or didn’t have some kind of sense of the problems with the bill, or the problems it was trying to solve. Seriously. They were, by and large, adults with a decent education who had talked about this issue, thought about it, and reached a conclusion as to what outcome they thought would be the best. You think the ones who disagree with you should have listened to your side more? You can make that happen. Stop the eliminationist rhetoric. Stop telling them that they’re bad and horrible and you don’t care what they think, and maybe they might care what you think.
Polarizing politics is a great way to drum up votes, but in the long run, it is also a great way to keep people from thinking clearly about the issues. Eliminationist rhetoric is a great way to make people feel afraid, but it’s a very bad way to make them learn to get along.
And the fact is, we have to get along. The alternative, an “impeachment process” involving a mentally disabled man lobbing bullets around, is hardly a viable basis for a system of government.
So, seriously. Drop the eliminationist rhetoric. Stop demonizing the people you disagree with. Start asking them what they believe instead of telling them what they believe. Stop mistaking your beliefs about the likely outcomes of their actions for their intent in taking those actions. Instead of organizing groups of like-minded people who sit around holding everyone else in contempt, start seeking out people you disagree with and really listening to them.
Consider that “eliminationist” means “full of, and emitting, shit”. It may seem like a pun, but if you keep it in mind while reading various diatribes calling for people to be forced out of office with guns if necessary, you may find it clarifies the matter substantially.