When America's verbal violence turns real

What we have instead is mostly verbal violence — hyperbolic expressions of outrage and disgust at ideological opponents, flat-footed and often flamboyantly ignorant historical analogies, and shameless assertions of half-truths and sometimes outright lies from leading politicians and media personalities. And of course, encouraging it all, is the president himself, who denounces and demonizes the press and his political enemies with giddy abandon, often skirting the edges of outright incitement to violence.

Looking back at the real-world tumult of 50 years ago, the most striking thing may be the lack of panic it provoked. Yes, Richard Nixon ran for and won the White House with a campaign promising “law and order,” and with the election of Ronald Reagan the political spectrum itself shifted a few clicks rightward for more than a generation. But the surge in violence at the time was real and called out for a measured, mainstream response, which is mostly what these Republicans offered.

What we did not see was widespread hysteria, with television news anchors and large newspapers and magazines stoking the frenzy on a daily basis. And of course there was no internet and no Twitter to serve as a digital megaphone for every political hothead, nihilistic troublemaker, or rank opportunist in the world.