MINOT, N.D. — Very few topics in the world of politics actually pit good versus evil.
Absolutism may make for solid, retweet-worthy hot takes or a nice rant on cable news, but there are very few absolutes to be found when it comes to actual policymaking.
The good guys versus bad guys stuff is great for clicks and ratings and political rallies and absolutely detrimental to sound policymaking.
That good versus evil rhetoric, fomented by those who benefit from strife (mostly the politicians and the activists and certain elements in the national news media), permeates our country's discourse, is why our political leaders govern so little.
It's also why, increasingly, some have taken to justifying political violence.
We've seen it in the debate over energy, where violent protests against projects like pipelines have been condoned by those who claim the climate change issue is so pressing the mayhem is justified. The protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (currently being emulated by the demonstrators against the Line 3 project in Minnesota) were a calculated exercise in vandalism and arson and physical altercation designed and perpetrated by the anti-pipeline activists who were, in turn, excused by sympathetic politicians and pundits.
This summer, too, as demonstrators took up a righteous cause against police violence, many excused the more extreme protest elements who chose to undermine the movement by hurting people who have nothing to do with the police. How many business owners, amid a global pandemic that has already depressed the economy, had to deal with windows broken and buildings burned because certain political extremists felt it was necessary? How many people lost their jobs, or at least lost some paychecks, when they could scarcely afford it?
The right, too, has condoned violence. This fall and winter, we've watched ugly, violent protests over the election results held by people convinced by cranks that the vote was influenced by fraud.
So many people are expressing their political views with fists and fire, and weapons.
This brings us to the recent ax attack on Sen. John Hoeven's office in Fargo.
Law enforcement has a man in custody for the crime. His name is Thomas Alexander Starks, age 30. In court documents, one of Starks' colleagues said Starks was “politically open and motivated,” left-leaning and "very active in protests," according to police.
The smug grin he displays in his mugshot photo suggests he's not a bit sorry for the crime he's alleged to have committed. A crime that took place at 9:04 in the morning, just minutes before a Hoeven staffer turned up at the office.
We can be thankful the two didn't meet.
Even in more pacific political climes, we have malcontents and extremists capable of hurting others in the name of their causes, but in 2020 political violence went mainstream.
It was condoned.
Seemingly because those who espouse the good versus evil, white hats versus black hats narratives have begun to believe their own rhetoric, what might have once been said or written for ratings and clicks and donations is now accepted as truth.
Too many Americans believe the political opposition is evil.
It's a short hop and a skip from there to picking up an ax.
“Politics stops at violence. Politics stops at intimidation,” U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, who will be involved in prosecuting Starks, told reporter April Baumgarten. “It stops at a bright line when threats, intimidation and destruction are being utilized.”
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.