Political violence is gaining ground this election season as both major party candidates continue to face record unpopularity ratings, and a public disillusioned with American political institutions.
“I think the more polarized the public gets, the more likely we are to get violence,” says John Petito, a professor of history and political science at Bucks.
Both Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton have denounced each other as unfit for the presidency, and many of their supporters seem to agree. In a recent Gallup poll, the most popular response was 28 percent of American voters claiming that the reason they supported their respective candidates is “a negative assessment of their opponent.” Support for policy was only cited by 17 percent of voters.
During the primaries, violence broke out at many of Trump’s rallies, with Slate.com compiling a list of incidents. Trump supporters have been pelted with eggs, pepper-sprayed, and attacked during the rallies, where those protesting the Republican candidate have been sucker-punched, forcibly ejected, and choked by his supporters as well as by security personnel.
“The violence demonstrates the passions and the anger,” Petito says. “I went to the Value Voters Summit and everyone says that politicians are crooked.”
Columnists for many national newspapers have claimed that Trump deliberately incites violence at his rallies. While talking to his supporters, Trump has claimed that protesters “should be roughed up” and “punched in the face,” and has compared protesters to Islamic State militants.
“I think he goes out of his way to inflame passions,” Petito says. “I’ve seen loads of his speeches. He has controlled the media cycle.”
Donald Trump unleashed a firestorm a few weeks ago when he said that “the Second Amendment people” may be the only ones able to stop Hillary if she becomes president, while Clinton has provoked outrage by calling Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables,” a comment swiftly capitalized on by the billionaire and his followers.
Supporters of both Trump and Clinton, as well as supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, have also claimed that the American electoral system is “rigged,” a claim also promoted by Trump, who has called the debates, the primaries, and even the general election “a rigged deal.” Clinton, for her part, has claimed that Trump represents “a rigged system.”
“This is not healthy political discourse,” Petito says. “Trump’s comments can only mean one thing: he believes, or at least he says he believes, that the election will be stolen from him.”
Trump has claimed, “The only way we can lose, in my opinion, I really mean this, Pennsylvania, is if cheating goes on,” posing serious implications.
“I’m worried that Trump supporters will feel cheated out of their vote if he loses,” says Petito. “I’m worried about violence after the election.”
Petito says, “We’ve had these characters before. I think this election is like the election of 1896. The people were outraged and had a chance to change the United States, and they thought it was stolen from them.” The winner of that election was William McKinley, who was later assassinated by an anarchist after winning a second term.
Recent discussions about removing Trump from the Republican ticket, after the revelation of an indecent videotape, may also lead the billionaire’s supporters to claim that the Republican Party itself is rigged against their nominee.