I expressed concern yesterday over the violence between political partisans that seem to be becoming a routine feature of this election. This is not a healthy sign. It is interesting how politics in US are a delayed mirroring of what I was used to in Sri Lanka. There too violence at political rallies was not uncommon. Another ugly feature there were the attempts by politicians to impugn the integrity of judges and even retaliate against them or threaten them and thus undermine their credibility or intimidate them whenever they ruled against the government in power.
The recent attacks by Donald Trump on a federal judge who ruled that the documents relating to the so-called university he marketed under his name be released, plus the sustained personal attacks by Republicans on judges whenever they rule against them on LGBT, abortion, or Obamacare issues undermines public confidence in the judiciary. Judges are not perfect by any means and wrong decisions can be criticized but should not be personalized. Attacking them based on their ethnicity, as Trump did, is beyond the pale.
What adds fuel to the fire is the violent imagery that is used by politicians and the journalists who cover them. For example, Hillary Clinton gave a speech on foreign policy yesterday where she sharply criticized Donald Trump and suggested that it would be dangerous to let such a thin-skinned person have control of the nuclear launch codes as president.
Media reports repeatedly described her as ‘eviscerating’ Trump, as you can see by entering “clinton trump eviscerating” into the search engine field of your browser. But the word ‘viscera’ refers to internal organs of the body, and eviscerate literally means “to take out the internal organs of (an animal)”. In response, Rick Perry said that he thought that Trump would “peel her [Clinton’s] skin off” in a debate setting. This is also an unsettling image. One also frequently hears about heated congressional debates that left “blood on the floor”, “going for the jugular”, and the like.
I do not want to get into the debate about whether such violent rhetoric can lead to actual violence or whether it serves as a mechanism for the non-violent release for anger and violent impulses. People may be using it to fire people up or to spice up reporting about otherwise dull politics. I just want to point out how commonplace such violent rhetoric has become in our public discourse. The use of battlefield metaphors for sporting events is another example of this.
Politics have long been a dirty business but I am not sure if it was always thus, that political conflicts have been described using such bloodthirsty metaphors. But I do want to suggest that perhaps we should consciously ratchet down such violent imagery that invites us to imagine people being disemboweled and the like. It seems gratuitous and I find it repulsive, like gratuitous violence in films.
I do not have clean hands here. Although I have not searched for specific examples, I am pretty sure that I too have been guilty in the past of using words and phrases without thinking about the violence that they are really suggesting. I now consciously try to tamp it down.
Physical violence is bad enough without adding to it linguistically.