Should we be more prepared for political violence in 2020?

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In the days following the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden I observed two important lessons.

The first was that the lack of enforcement of basic ground rules led many, if not most, people to turn off the debate. I could count the fingers on one hand the number of people I knew who watched the whole event.

The second was somewhat delayed, Trump’s repeated refusal to condemn white supremacist violence — he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”

I fear that the relationship between the two lessons is stronger than most realize. The warnings for expected political violence are not being taken seriously and it is time to sound the alarms about a forecast that is getting worse.

Research has been clear and consistent about an increasing number of concerning trends. Taken together the cumulative impact is unknown but clear cause for concern. People are stockpiling guns, many of them white men. Their racial anxieties and fear about jobs and the economy combine with their lack of education to produce armed strategies for protecting their families. They have been increasingly targeted and susceptible to misinformation and propaganda campaigns designed to exaggerate and inflame social divisions. Stockpiling also can add meaning to their lives through hero fantasies.

Trump has gone out his way to praise a 17-year-old who killed two Constitutionally protected demonstrators in Kenosha, WI. He sees no irony in the clear hypocrisy between the cause of the protests — police murdering unarmed black people — and murdering unarmed protesters of those police.

Experts monitoring hate crimes have reported concerns about Trump’s behavior and his continued use of overt racism in speech and policy as well as his sometimes-disguised dog-whistling. Hate crimes are up, especially in pro-Trump counties.

Violent fascists like the Proud Boys and Three Percenters militia are making threats and traveling the country to carry out violent acts of political terrorism. They enjoy each endorsement they receive from Trump.

A study correlating racism and gun ownership showed that for each one-point increase in symbolic racism there was a 50 percent increase in the odds of having a gun at home.

The violent rhetoric and behavior are increasingly serious. I know several Black parents who’ve taken their children to gun ranges in the last week, they are worried about their sons becoming statistics. With all the vitriol who can blame them? I worry, however, that this is a counterproductive step in preparation.

The licensed gun owner was unable to protect Breonna Taylor when she was murdered in her sleep, in her own home. It begs the question on what it would take to perform effective defense against fascists and racists who’ve trained — sometimes heavily — to kill. It is exacerbated by the unmistakable problem presented by the infiltration of alt-right and white-nationalist extremists into law enforcement in departments all across the country.

This means systemic law enforcement problems from enforcement to trial testimony from those officers, once again worsening the impacts on marginalized communities but also threatening the very rule of law if Trump loses the election and refuses to peacefully transition from power. Will law enforcement stand for their oaths or for an illegal Trump takeover of our democracy?

The threat is real — it has already started — and the good people of America must prepare with a strong strategic response. Evidence shows that nonviolent responses are strategically superior to overthrowing fascist dictators. Forget stockpiling weapons — stockpile necessities — and commit to a general strike when Trump accelerates violence under the threat of relinquishing power to the voice of the people in November. Find allies and people in need, and create support groups to make sure everyone is cared for.

This is our country and the terrorists cannot justify their violence when we hold the moral high ground. They know it and will do everything to provoke a confrontation. They will use self-defense as the justification for their violence. The enemy is real — hiding in plain sight — but the enemy is outnumbered. The answer to fascism is not firearms — it is community. Trump wants to degrade our human connections, do not let him win. Find ways to connect to your neighbors through social distance, remember that we have far more in common than what divides us. The root of the problem is dishonesty, feeding the narrative with violence is self-defeating.

The best preparation is dialog. If you want to get ready for Nov. 4, just talk with people who disagree with you, and talk about everything but politics. Politics will divide us, and that is what the terrorists are counting on, but our shared humanity can save us.

Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, a program of the Oregon Peace Institute, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution and is a member of the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.