Which is more dangerous to the United States, left-wing radicals or right-wing radicals?

That is the real core of how many Americans today look at the political culture in the nation.

It is an overly-simplistic view, of course, but in complex times, people tend to cling to simplistic explanations for current events.

If you are on the political left, you probably fear the political right. If you are on the political right, you probably fear the political left.

The result is hyper-partisanship.

Although America was founded on the notion of tolerance and unity, that view is fading. Polarization is tearing the nation apart. The political fringes have become mainstream.

Political moderates might make up a majority in the nation, but their voices are being drowned out by a much more vocal minority on the left and right.

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This increasing radicalization of our political culture reached a new level over the summer as a number of cities have been slammed with protests, rioting, looting and violence.

Although a vast majority of those protesting over the summer have been peaceful, there's also been a lot of criminal acts that rode that wave, too. Just because the looting and violence is being done by a minority of people taking to the streets doesn't make it any less dangerous or serious.

It's difficult to know, however, if this violence is an outgrowth of the "justice" movement, or is just coming from people finding an opportunistic situation to exploit.

The nation had this same discussion in the 1960s when protests over civil rights and against the Vietnam War also led to looting and violence. The entire "peace" movement of that era was tainted by the violence of a few.

Today, we look back and know that the overall anti-war and pro-civil rights movements were on the right side of history, the violence at the time made a lot of average American recoil in fear.

•••

It was that fear in 1968 that led to the election of Richard Nixon as president. The radical social changes of that era created a lot of fear across the nation and Nixon appealed to what he called a "silent majority" to get elected.

In many ways, 2020 is like 1968. There is a sense that the fabric of the nation is coming undone.

Politically, the two years are similar in that both are election years in which the Republican Party appeals to the status quo and "law and order" while the Democratic Party finds itself torn between its left wing and its moderate wing.

But there are differences.

In 2020, we have the internet and a slew of social media sites through which people share all kinds of propaganda, misinformation and conspiracy theories. That has acted like gasoline on a fire, fueling political and cultural unrest at an alarming rate.

•••

If you watch Fox News, you're sure to get the picture of America as a place endangered by "socialist Democrats," immigrants and Antifa. There is a deep belief among conservatives that Democrats are evil and that the nation's existence is threatened by the election of a Democrat as president.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton was an easy target for Republicans. That's a little more difficult this year with Joe Biden carrying the Democratic flag because, unlike Clinton, people like Biden. He doesn't have the kind of political baggage that doomed Clinton's bid for the presidency.

The result is that conservatives portray Biden as a stooge for the radical left. Biden himself can't be labeled as a radical, but given his age, he is being labeled their unwitting puppet.

But is that picture of America under siege by radical leftists accurate? Does the radical left really control the Democratic Party and pose an existential threat to the United States?

•••

Those on the left would argue that the real danger to America comes from the radical right.

Despite the current violence in some cities being linked to left-wing groups, terrorism from the political right is something the nation's leaders are perhaps even more worried about.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank that studies international issues, radical right terrorism has been more of threat to the U.S. over the last 26 years than the radical left.

"Far-right terrorism has significantly outpaced terrorism from other types of perpetrators, including from far-left networks and individuals inspired by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda," said a CSIS report in June. "Right-wing attacks and plots account for the majority of all terrorist incidents in the United States since 1994, and the total number of right-wing attacks and plots has grown significantly during the past six years. Right-wing extremists perpetrated two thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90 percent between Jan. 1 and May 8, 2020."

•••

While the CSIS report looked at terrorism, there is a deeper movement on the radical right that underpins that danger.

Increasingly, fringe right-wing candidates are becoming involved and winning in our political systems.

One of the most notable examples of that is here in Georgia where, in northwest Georgia's 14th Congressional District, a member of the radical right and a follower of the nutty QAnon conspiracy cult has won the GOP nomination and will likely be elected to Congress in November.

Candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene had opposition in the GOP primary, but voters in the 14th District elected her despite her affiliation with QAnon and other conspiracy theories.

Here in the 9th Congressional District, there were two candidates on the GOP ballot this year who cultivated support from a white supremacist group during the primary. One was a self-styled militia member.

What's frightening about Greene and other radical candidates is that they're becoming normalized. The GOP establishment is embracing them.

This isn't normal.

•••

Conservatives would argue that it isn't just right-wing nuts getting elected, that left-wing radicals are getting elected as well.

That's true. There's "the squad" of young women in Congress who have come to symbolize the far left-wing of the Democratic Party.

Other far-left Democratic candidates are also finding traction in this year's elections, ousting more moderate, establishment Democrats in some liberal cities.

•••

All of this is troubling for a nation where we have traditionally valued compromise and moderation.

The two extremes are now showing up on the streets of America. Radical left and radical right groups are clashing with each other. People are dying.

It's time for the moderate leadership of both political parties to openly and forcefully denounce the radicals that are infiltrating their ranks.

Democrats should reject the violent protests rather than play footsie with their radical left followers and hem and haw about the underlying causes of the violence. It's difficult to hear a reasonable conversation when buildings are burning.

Republicans should reject the radical right-wing candidates and groups that are defining that party. Republicans have increasingly embraced conspiracy over common sense and winning an election over having moral clarity.

No nation can survive when both of its major political parties allow such radical corruption within their ranks.

Remember Germany, 1930s.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers and editor of The Jackson Herald. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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