The examples abound of America’s lurch toward greater extremism on both the right and left. It’s getting to the point where free speech is being stifled by self-righteous word police on the left and screaming, armed lunatics on the far right. Each side uses the other’s examples as justification for even more extreme behavior, as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis so aptly demonstrated with his derisive reference to Dr. Anthony Fauci, saying, “Someone needs to grab that little elf and chuck him across the Potomac.”
Supporters of former President Donald Trump, apparently unsatisfied with the results of their armed insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, are now calling online for attacks on the FBI and the launching of civil war. Two right-wing militants were convicted last week of conspiring to kidnap the governor of Michigan.
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Other countries that failed to stop their drift toward the extremes saw nothing but pain and hardship, as Germans and Russians can attest. Central America is still reeling from bloody civil conflicts in the 1980s that culminated in direct attacks on the Catholic Church and the assassination in El Salvador of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero because right-wing militants didn’t like his words.
At that same time in nearby Nicaragua, the Sandinista guerrilla victory replaced military dictator Anastasio Somoza with the socialist rule of Daniel Ortega, whose own dicatorship ended after a democratic election in 1990. But Ortega returned to power in 2007 and has done everything in his power since then to wipe out all vestiges of democracy. In mid-August, Ortega’s government arrested Bishop Rolando Alvarez and threw eight of his associates in jail. Their crime? Words. They dared to criticize Ortega.
The United States isn’t there yet, but these are cautionary tales of how far things could go if Americans don’t come to their senses. The far right is not alone in the resort to armed violence, as underscored by the 2020 riots following George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. The far left also is entirely capable of stifling speech by seeking to impose rules on the use of gender-neutral pronouns or referring to pregnant women as “birthing people” — including in government documents.
The last time the Democratic Socialists of America, whose membership includes Rep. Cori Bush of St. Louis, criticized Ortega was January 2019. The organization’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine included a demand that the United States withdraw from NATO, blaming “imperialist expansionism” for the Ukraine war. In November, Bush voted against a measure to extend U.S. sanctions against Nicaragua, followed by a vote in March opposing sanctions against Russia.
Neither edge of the extremist fringe seems willing to look at the harmful effects of its own words and actions, and the effect they have on the other side’s further radicalization. Those in the moderate middle who allow themselves to be silenced are equally complicit in America’s downfall.