Nov 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

America is Big Mad

Illustration of a punching hand toy colored like the American flag.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Politicians, billionaires and average Americans are itching for a fight these days.

Why it matters: Tech giants are suggesting cage matches, a former House Speaker is throwing elbows and presidential candidates are embracing new frontiers in the use of force — while Americans of all political persuasions are increasingly OK with political violence.

Driving the news: Last week was especially antagonistic in Congress.

  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called a colleague a "p***y" in a post on X and House Oversight chair James Comer (R-Ky.) exploded at Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), saying he looked like a "Smurf."
  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) shoved Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) in the hallways.
  • Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) nearly brawled with International Brotherhood of Teamsters' Sean O'Brien in the middle of a committee hearing, after reading tweets in which O'Brien had talked about wanting to fight. Mullin is now selling t-shirts off of it.

Between the lines: Political polarization keeps getting worse.

  • Social media has allowed people in power to easily pick virtual fights and some of them seem to get stuck in that mentality, even when they're offline.
  • Plus, "Trump has normalized political violence," Howard Lavine, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, told Axios.

Yes, and: It wasn't so long ago that Elon Musk challenged Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.

Zoom in: Threats of violence are front and center in the 2024 presidential race, as NBC News points out.

  • Trump has called for shooting shoplifters, giving drug dealers the death penalty, executing child traffickers and, reportedly, bringing back firing squads.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's campaign now sells "stone-cold dead" t-shirts — in reference to his promise to "authorize the use of deadly force against the cartels."
  • Vivek Ramaswamy promised to "be smoking the terrorists on our southern border," at the last debate.
  • Republicans across the board have gotten behind a plan to invade Mexico to wipe out the cartels.

Zoom out: The Republic is also angry.

  • Support for political violence has jumped, to nearly a quarter of Americans.
  • More than half of Americans told the Pew Research Center this year they feel "angry" always or often when they think about politics, and another survey found Americans increasingly judge people of the other political party personally.
  •  72% of Republicans say they think Democrats are more "immoral" and 63% of Democrats say the same thing about GOPers. That's a jump from 47% and 35% in 2016.

What to watch: More angry leaders could be en route.

  • There is a growing number of safe Congressional districts where the only competition will be in primaries, not a general election.
  • This trend can provide an opportunity for more extremely partisan candidates, and weakens national political committees' power to back the candidate they find most palatable.
  • "There is not as much behind-the-scenes efforts for members with broad appeal, finding the kind of neighbors you’d want to have," Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman told Axios.

The bottom line: "Both parties' primary voters are perpetually angry," Wasserman said.

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