On Wednesday, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in a failed attempt to overturn the results of a democratic presidential election with violence. This was the first time since the British invaded the United States during the War of 1812 that the heart of American democracy has been assaulted. It was an act of insurrection.

The Congress, convened to count electoral votes from the states, was put into lockdown. The U.S. National Guard was called in to put down the rebellion. Americans on all sides of the political aisle, from pundits to senators to the vice president, unequivocally condemned the political violence and our leaders resumed their constitutional obligations—which were disrupted only so much as was necessary to ensure their safety.

This was an attack on American democracy like many people have not seen in their lifetimes. Our system held. President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office on January 20 and the peaceful transition of power will occur, as President Trump has said it will. But this isn’t the end of the story, as Americans probably sense.

Our nation is being ravaged by internecine political warfare. Half of our people have decided that the other half is dangerous to the country and that democratic rights must be suspended in order to protect democracy. This is evident in the suppression of non-violent speech deemed “violent” and the running of Americans out of their own institutions for holding “dangerous” opinions.

Expressed in the “bitter clingers” and “basket of deplorables” attacks from high-level Democrats, there exists this idea that half the country, those who vote Republican or defend traditional American values, are a danger to the Republic and cannot, therefore, be allowed to have power lest they drag us backward.

As a result, we are suffering ugly polarization in the country. The way it seems to work is that Democrats push the envelope politically and socially—violating the unwritten rules of politics and manipulating democratic institutions for political gain in ways they weren’t intended for. Then Republicans, lacking the integrity to hold fast to the principles that all Americans must share, follow suit—conceding to an alienated and frustrated faction that wants the GOP to play dirty too, if that’s what is necessary. Democrats then attack Republicans for norm-violating and democracy-threatening without admitting their fault for doing it first. This would be the gaslighting—and it further alienates those right-wingers who wish to “play for keeps” instead of standing by principles that they see Democrats violating.

We’ve seen this pattern in the political violence that Democrats justified over the summer, which they then rightfully – and conveniently – condemned when it occurred at the Capitol. However, they did something else too. Our Democratic media and political class have also decided that President Trump and all of his supporters – and all conservatives and Republicans – are personally responsible for the violence which they unequivocally condemned and did not call for. Not only is this a lie, but it’s gaslighting Americans by suggesting that conservatives have been encouraging political violence since Trump took office. The BLM and antifa riots, then, must never have happened.

The gaslighting is infuriating for Americans. If Democrats think that Trump is a demagogic populist, well then part of the reason that they got him is the gaslighting—the double-standards on political violence and violating unwritten political rules and the setting of dangerous precedents. (Trump tapped into this infuriation and was elected to punch back.)

As a country, we must be able to trust our political leaders and they must be able to trust each other. Our leaders need to have the credibility in the eyes of their opponents and supporters, alike, to stand for the things that must be upheld.

The gaslighting is fueling our political polarization. It is inhibiting our ability to live with each other and to cooperate in governing our massive and complicated country. If the gaslighting doesn’t stop, our polarization will only grow worse. We won’t be able to listen to our leaders, even when they are correct. Wednesday, among the tougher days in modern American history, could have been an opportunity for unification around the American system of government and our shared willingness to defend it. Instead, we made our divisions worse.

(Photo: Flickr/Supermac1961/CC BY 2.0)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of Heroes Media Group