American democracy is facing multiple threats, not the least of which is political violence. Political leaders are using extremist language and emotional cues that inflame grievances and are understood to authorize or condone physical harm to opponents or public officials. Since 2022, for example, the United States has seen the attempted assassination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh; the brutal attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); and death threats against election officials, prosecutors, and judges. As federal officials warn that the threat of political violence is increasing, a growing number of Americans say that political violence is acceptable and necessary in some circumstances. Meanwhile, fear of such violence leads to reduced civic engagement and voter participation and exacerbates the spread of harmful disinformation.
Despite these troubling trends, it is possible to restore political norms that reject violence and strengthen democracy. This bipartisan event co-hosted by the Center for American Progress and the McCain Institute will explore ways that political violence creates a toxic stew that reduces comity and drives polarization. Our distinguished panelists—former Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) and former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA)—will also draw lessons from other times in American history when threats of political violence posed similar risks, while highlighting ways to help Americans not only recognize these “dog whistles” but also reject and constructively counter such dangerous language.