We have all experienced violence. Consuming goods extracted through violent means is violence. Ignoring the persecution of others is violence. Manipulation, economic, psychological, physical, is violence. Honesty compels us to admit we have all been victims and perpetrators, directly or indirectly, of violence.
Violence is one reason we have government. A functional government protects against direct acts of violence and mitigates indirect acts of violence.
Failing to prevent violence is a fundamental failure for government. Citizens must always be concerns when their government fails to prevent violence or--worse still--foments or condones violence.
When the United States was falling apart President Abraham Lincoln made one of the bravest assertions of this duty to mitigate violence:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.In the midst of a war that split the nation asunder along political and moral lines, Lincoln chose not to vilify his enemies. He chose not to condemn or caricature those he was literally at war with. Rather, he extended charity towards all. Even when radical abolitionists called for punishment, Lincoln called for the nation to bind up its wounds.
Yes, Lincoln was party to the bloodiest war the United States has ever been involved in. Yes, the ethics of war are complex. My focus is not Lincoln's prosecution of that war or the larger ethics of war; my focus is the climate that created the Civil War and the climate the Civil War created.
The antebellum United States was divided bitterly and violently. Preston Brooks caned Charles Sumner near to death on the Senate floor. Violent anarchy ruled Kansas until the state could adopt a pro or anti slavery constitution. John Brown raided a federal military installation. If you were an abolitionist, slaveholders were miniature despots trading in and oppressing human souls. If you were a slaveholder, abolitionists were out-of-touch city elites who wanted to tell you how to run your life. Either way, your political opponent was your enemy, your evil enemy. The inability to compromise, to see opponents as fully human, fomented war.
That same spirit animates contemporary politics. Turn on late night television and you'll hear how bumbling Republicans don't understand reproductive anatomy but want to dictate what you do with your uterus, how Christian theocrats want to force their religion on America, or how ill-educated, hypocritical rural Americans want to run out the immigrants and minorities they've always been prejudiced against. Turn the same television to a different channel at a different time and you'll hear how progressives want to allow sexual predators in the same bathroom as your wife or child, how the political establishment is trying to undo the will of the American people, or how the Democrat's are scheming to use the Courts to force Christianity and morality out of America. It's the same message: "We are good. We are safe. They are bad. They want to steal, kill, and destroy the things you love. You must love us and hate them."
A Congressman was shot today. It seems he was shot because of this message, because of the political climate we have created. If we cannot empathize, we will polarize. If we cannot talk as sensible humans, we will kill as insensible animals. If we cannot give charity, we will be given malice.
Let us resolve to preserve our union by giving malice to none and charity to all.