Building U.S. Resilience to Political Violence: A (Globally-Informed) Framework for Analysis and Action

Policy paper by Nichole Argo Ben Itzhak, Rachel Brown, and Heather Hurlburt

This paper is part of a larger research project whose authors include Laura Livingston and Samantha Owens

The rise of violence and hate speech, the increase in public rhetoric that seems to condone if not encourage violence, and the declining legitimacy of U.S. democratic institutions are all well-documented. The 2019-2020 period brings a set of political and cultural events — including the run-up to a U.S. presidential election and census — that will likely further escalate tensions and increase the risk of violence and instability. Research on international violence and peacebuilding reveal that a great deal can be done to prevent (and, if necessary, de-escalate) violence and increase resilience — if leaders with influence and resources are ready to face these challenges squarely now. With this in mind, this paper reviews insights and lessons learned from social science and international peacebuilding — positioning them amidst the specific U.S. experience — to identify and discuss those areas most likely to bolster U.S. resilience in the face of political violence.

We highlight four risk factors for violence:

  1. elite factionalization,

  2. societal polarization,

  3. a rise in hate speech and rhetoric, and

  4. weakening institutions.

We then suggest five domains for philanthropic efforts to focus on effective interventions to increase societal resilience to political violence and serve as the long-term foundations of a healthier society:

  1. shaping group norms by bolstering inclusive, influential voices within diverse American communities;

  2. supporting targeted communities;

  3. protecting, supporting and training the media to heed the best practices of reporting amidst division;

  4. laying the groundwork for a coordinated response to violence; and

  5. protecting and strengthening capacities for resilience, specifically through supporting democratic institutions and reckoning with U.S. history.

Download the full report here.

Rachel Brown