November 21, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Political violence is an expression of the status quo

Why does it surprise us?


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A 22-year-old white man in Colorado Springs walked into an LGBT-plus nightclub over the weekend and opened fire. Anderson Aldrich killed five and wounded 25 more before a patron subdued him. His motive is unknown. Police are determining whether to investigate the incident as a hate crime.

Others aren’t waiting around. Critics say that a young white man doesn’t bring an AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon, a handgun and extra rounds of ammunition into an LGBT-plus venue, located in a relatively conservative city, if he doesn’t hate the people in it.

Others say the shooting is an example of what experts sometimes call “stochastic terrorism” or the incitement of violence against an individual or group. The Editorial Board’s Rod Graham put it this way:

If a group of people hear from Republican authority figures and thought leaders that Democrats are satanic pedophiles, somebody is going to eventually grab a hammer and march over to the residence of their local Democratic representative.

Rod was referring to the attack of Paul Pelosi, the spouse of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I think I can speak for Rod when I say we can swap out “Democratic representative” for any minority group, like the LGBT-plus community, and come to the same conclusion.

Political violence is normal
I agree with all the above, but I want to add an observation. 

When we talk about “hate crimes” and “stochastic terrorism,” we should bear in mine an underlying assumption, and by bearing it in mind, we can see that the challenge before us requires solutions far greater than demanding that GOP rhetoric be toned down. They require far more than gun-law reform. That assumption has two parts. 

I think there’s more going on than the natural horror of witnessing bloodshed – more than the despair at witnessing bloodshed over and over, as we have for the past 20 years. I think it’s about expectations.

One, that the status quo – what’s “normal” – is politically neutral. 

Two, that the status quo is nonviolent.

It is neither.

The way things are is not just the way things are. It’s a product of politics and history, all the choices made before us, and by us, coalescing into a knowable moment that we experience as the now.

The politics of the past informs the politics of the present, just as the politics of the present will inform the politics of the future. This is the way things are. To deny it is to deny our humanity. To deny it is to run away from the freedom of making choices that suit us collectively. It’s to escape the responsibility of having made them.

Nor is the status quo politically nonviolent. 

Hard as it is to say, violence is a force that shapes our norms. Some violence we deem legitimate, as when police keep the peace. Others we deem illegitimate, as when criminals breach the peace. But both shape what’s “normal.” The difference is the degree of acceptability. The difference is how much political violence and who’s doing it.

However, because the status quo is political, and the status quo is shaped by violence, legitimate and illegitimate, political violence is an expression of the status quo. And given that white power (rule by heterosexual, Christian, preferably rich, white men) is the status quo, political violence is expression of white power. Put another way:

• White power is normal. 
• White power is politically violent.
• Political violence is normal.

Aldrich committed an act of political violence. 

It’s going to take more than gun control to address that.

It must be a bug! 
One way or another, we have, and everyone before us has, decided that one kind of violence is good while the other kind is bad. These choices are political. They were made in a political context. Their consequences, which we all live with unawares, are political, too.

To deny the politics of these choices is to deny the cause and effect of history – to ignore the material consequences that come with decision-making. To deny that is to throw up our hands and say whatever will be will be in God’s hands. Sadly, that’s what most of us choose to do. 

If political violence is normal, why does it surprise us?

I think there’s more going on than the natural horror of witnessing bloodshed – more than the despair at witnessing bloodshed over and over, as we have for 20 years. It’s about expectations and whose.

When something is working for you, you don’t think about it. That it’s working is what’s expected. But when it fails to work, indeed harms you, that’s surprising, maybe even shocking. It’s supposed to work! 

White power works for white people (who are most people in America). We never think about it. We don’t have to. It works! But occasionally, the political violence that is a consequence of white power doesn’t work. It harms us, kills us! It causes young white men to go berserk!

Yet we continue to be surprised. We continue to be, because we – meaning white people – won’t rethink the problem. We won’t make different political choices. We won’t even recognize, and admit, that we have already made choices. We won’t, because white power works. We think political violence can’t be a feature. It must be a bug!

Running from freedom
It’s not a bug. The question isn’t whether there is or isn’t political violence. (Political violence is the force that shapes our norms.) The question is how much. The answer is a lot. We tolerate political violence – mounds of corpses – because that’s easier than rethinking all the political choices that go into maintaining white power.

If we admitted responsibility, we’d have to do something. 

White power normally works, though. 

So we don’t. 

By refusing to accept that we (white people) have already made choices that produce the status quo, we are denying our humanity. We are running from freedom. We’d rather throw up our hands and say whatever will be will be in God’s hands. The choice is ours, though.

Not God’s.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Bern on November 21, 2022 at 5:35 pm

    “the peaceful transfer of power” here in this country was always mythology spread around by folks how for some reason either were clueless or else were deliberately trying hide or refute what is true on it’s face: several of our national leaders were killed while in office, in order to deny them from governing. Some others were targeted for murder but survived (including some who were targeted even before they assumed office. The percentage of presidential officeholders, plus candidates, who were killed or wounded or escaped assassination unharmed is pretty large, considering how few actual presidents we’ve had in total.

    Yet we constantly read the quote “No one could have predicted (sometimes substituting ‘imagined’)” such violent political acts, even when those of us without security clearances, without access to 10s of millions of phone logs, emails, texts, tweets or the like, and without access to the considered opinions of security personnel, still are entirely UNsurprised when this stuff does happen.

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