Extremism Beyond the Extremes

Issue 7, Volume 112

By Muhib Muhib 

An epidemic of political extremism has recently emerged throughout the United States. Neo-Nazis, antisemites, Islamophobes, transphobes, white supremacists, and other bigots have become more energized in recent years as the media has become more democratized by the Internet, creating bubbles of lies and falsehoods. This extremism had not entered the halls of government until now. This epidemic severely threatens the very existence of our democracy, and it must be vanquished.

The wave of political extremism crashed upon Congress. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia promoted the Pizzagate and QAnon conspiracies before her election to Congress. Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado gave out the locations of lawmakers during the January 6 insurrection on her fourth day in office. Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina visited Hitler’s vacation residence, supposedly on his bucket list, three years before becoming the youngest member to get elected to Congress in more than five decades. Many of the senior members, such as Representative Andy Harris of Maryland, Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, have exhibited similar behavior.

This wave of political extremism resulted in several encounters that would have been considered unthinkable less than half a decade ago. Hundreds of insurrectionists breached the Capitol building in an effort to overthrow an incoming government on January 6. A record number of Americans do not believe the current administration is legitimate. And now, incumbent members of Congress are calling for violence toward their political rivals.

It started with Greene, who made several posts on social media when she was a private citizen in 2019, calling for the assassination of the Speaker of the House and incumbent members of Congress. When the post resurfaced this year, only 10 members of her party in the House voted to strip her of her committee assignments as a punitive measure. Gosar glorified assassinating Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, his colleague, and President Joe Biden in an anime parody uploaded on Twitter. He defended it as a “cartoon” that wasn’t intended to be taken seriously. Only two members of his conference voted to censure him.

The dangers of the recent surge in political extremism are harrowing. Governments no longer have the security they enjoyed for generations. A group of 10 thousand individuals manipulated into believing lies can overthrow a government in a day.

Mob rule was always a fear of the Founding Fathers, as it threatened the American experiment, resulting in our slow democratic implementation. However, they were mainly concerned with tyranny of the majority. In our 245-year existence, mobocracy has never been seen in its true, horrid form: one used to subvert the will of the people, the majority, due to their changing attitudes.

Letting such political extremism off the hook has grave consequences. Political extremists on one side can engage in obstruction of a majority or threaten violence. Instead of having a civil debate, political extremists can obstruct one or make threats toward those who engage in such debates. In such an environment, those who hold power will likely survive if they move further to the extremes and away from the center. Government will no longer be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Rather, it will reflect the will of extremists, who are firmly in the minority but are in power through obstruction, threats of violence, or the development of unfair systems, such as gerrymandering or regressive voter laws, designed to elect them.

This recent wave of political extremism is not just extremism; it is extremism beyond what is already considered outrageous, extremism beyond the extremes. It surpasses the extremes of the typical Overton window. On the left, that may be abolishing the police, or on the right, that may be eliminating the newly gained rights of historically disadvantaged groups, such as racial minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and women.

The unreasonable positions of the Overton window are extreme at this time, but either were not that way or will not be that way in the future. Unlike the extremities of the Overton window, radical positions beyond the intensities of the conventional Overton window have never been considered normal positions and will never be considered normal positions. These positions that drive extremism will only become normal if the American people let them be considered normal, and it is up to them to make the right choice.