As we move into the final days of the election season, political language has become less civil and more hostile than we’ve seen in generations.
Many political observers and everyday Americans say today’s tone is influenced and partly fueled by extremists on the far right and left.
University of North Georgia political scientist Dr. Glen Smith told Channel 2′s Justin Farmer that extremist groups are intolerant toward other groups and believe they are superior.
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“That’s the real attraction for members of that group, to feel that I, somehow-- whether it be by birth, or my beliefs-- I’m better than other people.”
Both mainstream political parties have struggled with extreme elements.
“If you do it in a peaceful way, [protesting is] something that all Democrats universally support,” said Tharon Johnson, senior adviser for the Biden campaign in Georgia. “But what is happening, Justin, is the Antifa movement is, in a lot of ways, hijacking the messaging around Black Lives Matter.”
Johnson said that’s exactly what happened this summer during some protests that started peacefully and became destructive.
“I think it sends a bad message to people in the community who think that they’re with us or they’re with Black Lives Matter or any other organization that’s positive,” said protester Quinton Davis to Channel 2 in July. “I don’t want them to be here.”
Republicans have similar problems, as groups such as white supremacists and believers of the Q Anon conspiracy theory try to attach themselves to the party.
“This is not something that’s mainstream among Republicans any more than Antifa is mainstream among Democrats,” said Republican strategist Brian Robinson, who has worked with Georgia governors.
Smith told Channel 2 that research shows economic uncertainty often leads to political extremism.
“Periods of greater economic anxiety, take away self esteem,” he said. “People in those jobs that are leaving, disappearing, are actually more likely to be extremists, because they lose that sense of identity, that sense of purpose, with their career, and that combined with the cultural changes going on is like a perfect storm for extremist groups.”
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The fringes of the right and left have grown more violent and garnered more attention in recent years-- more attention than the political preferences of the majority of Americans, who are vastly more moderate.
A 2019 Gallup poll showed that 35% of Americans described themselves as conservative, 35% as moderate and 26% as liberal.
A 2018 Pew Research Center survey showed that about half of Americans say they want Democrats and Republicans to compromise on solutions.
Political operatives on the right and left told Farmer that social media and the advent of 24-hour cable news are partly responsible for today’s division.
Social media and legacy media have a role in this and have contributed to it, they said.
“There was a day when all Americans got their news from the same handful of sources. So we were all at least working off the same set of information, maybe the same set of facts,” said Robinson. “And that’s not the case today.”
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“If you turn on Fox News at 9:00 and turn on CNN, or MSNBC at 9:00, you’re not seeing them cover the same story in different ways. They’re not talking about the same things.”
Johnson agreed, but noted that most people in both parties do share some amount of common ground.
“What’s unfortunate, though, is that the majority of us actually agree on more than we’re willing to admit. Where it really comes down to the debate is how we’re going to pay for it,” said Johnson. “We live in a very tribal America right now.”
WSB political analyst Bill Crane added that our primary system encourages politicians to attract and mobilize their most zealous, and sometimes, extremist supporters.
“Both parties have a run to their respective corners,” he said. “That’s encouraged fringe elements in both parties to take root and to grow like a weed being fed with a lot of rainfall.”
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One possible solution, according to Smith: term limits.
“Roughly two thirds of Americans support term limits and Republicans and Democrats equally support them, which is which is funny because you never see that in anything these days,” he noted. “There’s enough desire to change it. The only, the people standing in the way or those who most benefit from it, which is the politically active.”
Smith added he is optimistic because history has shown that the United States has endured turbulent times before.
He believes the pandemic, a divisive election season and economic uncertainty will eventually give way to periods of less anxiety and stress.
But there is one thing that is unlikely to change.
“The internet, that aspect of it bringing the extremists together-- that’s not going to go away, that’s here forever,” said Smith.
Johnson told Farmer that it’s something both parties have to learn to navigate and endure.
“We’re going to have to deal with Antifa just like Republicans are going to have to deal with Q Anon,” he said. “We’ve got to have a clear and concise message that we do not condone, nor support the harmful and destructive actions of Antifa.”