Interpersonal Political Violence and its Half-Apologists

by Matt Stannard

Between the end of the primaries and last week, we hadn’t heard much more about physical assaults at the Real Estate Tycoon’s political rallies. But then at one event, video captured a man grabbing a male protester and slapping a female one; at another, police have charged a man with assaulting a 69 year-old woman. Video at another event shows a private security guard working for team Tycoon yelling an obscenity straight into a man’s face, while a video released just prior to these events shows a montage of racist and sexist emotives throughout several events. I’m guessing there are many similar events not captured on video.

As a former legal and resource advocate for domestic violence victims, and a survivor of abuse, these events viscerally disturb me. Even thinking about these things happening to people fills me with a philosophical disgust. Those triggery feelings don’t come from the rough physical contact itself; in sporting or other contexts hard contact doesn’t bother me. It’s that the acts are violative, filled with invasive claims to power, non-consensual and micro-politically oppressive (like the Tycoon’s politics). I’m not trying to describe those feelings as theoretical categories, either. The acts are trauma-inducing to their victims and to hypersensitive observers like me. I also understand that they are utilized as media spectacle, of which I’ll say a little more below.

I’ve felt frustrated trying to articulate these feelings publicly, both because they draw attention to my hypersensitivity over abuse and because this horrified rejection of the Tycoon (and an accompanying concern with stopping the movement he represents) doesn’t lead me to the Democratic Party or compel me to vote for its presidential candidate. That inevitably awkward discussion aside, I’m not comfortable placing my trauma-stress near any of the three dominant political orientations towards the Republican nominee and his followers’ fits of violence.

Those three categories of response are: 1. Republican critics of the Tycoon. They see the violence as an unfortunate and tangential distraction. 2. Democrats. They see the violence as indicative of a temperament unfit to lead. 3. Lefty “half-apologists” for the Tycoon. They see the violence as an inconsequential spectacle and a manifestation of the systemic violence propped up by both parties.  

Intellectually, I am closest to #3, but only with the second of its two holdings. That is, the media may make a spectacle of people getting punched in the face, but it’s not inconsequential and it’s real to its victims and those around it. The problem with proponents of #3 (and they’re a solid presence on the left blogosphere) is that they seem to understand violence systemically but not interpersonally, leading to poor rhetorical interaction with good people who are sincerely and unapologetically voting to stop it; people for whom the horror of bloody masculinist violence perpetrated by a wealthy white male narcissist (and alleged rapist) is indeed enough to compel them to vote for the candidate they deem most likely to defeat him.

I can’t bring myself to blame anyone for making that calculation, and this is a very good illustration of making one decision while not faulting people for making a different one. The substantially lower risk of having someone beat the hell out of you at a Democratic event than a Republican event is real, and there are political reasons for that difference that add to an egalitarian critique of systemic violence. Dismissing a priori the fear of brutality, or simply telling the people who are afraid to toughen up, is to put theory over person and practice. Genuine transformative thinking requires that we understand why, in this unstable and unhinged world, when mechanisms of emancipation are so elusive and inconvenient, many people will vote on which candidate seems less like an abusive predator.

I agree that the order propped up by Clintonian neoliberalism contains (both possesses and hides) equivalent interpersonal violence. I understand the ways liberal politics both depends on and masks systemic and specific violence. And I think it’s possible to understand that, and commit to fight against it, and reject lesser-evilism and vote for the candidates you want to vote for, all while acknowledging the unique horror of the Real Estate Tycoon’s incipient fascist politics. I think it’s possible to say “I share your concern and fear, and it leads me to a different response.” All it takes is some sensitivity, respect for nuance, and willingness to sit out pointless social media arguments that you probably should have avoided in the first place. Stop blaming Democratic voters for being really, really afraid, and start building the alternative we keep insisting must be built. Those actions will build the movement. Acting insensitive and throwing macho bullshit around won’t.

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