Dec. 10, 2019
The United States has recently seen a rise in violence and hate speech, an increase in public rhetoric that seems to encourage violence, and a decline in the perceived legitimacy of U.S. democratic institutions. These well-documented trends are themselves alarming. Yet the next year will likely see an escalation in tensions and the risk of violence, due to political and cultural events, including the run-up to the U.S. presidential election and census.
Research on international violence and peacebuilding reveals that much can be done to prevent 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 escalated risks for political violence.
We highlight four risk factors for violence: elite factionalization, societal polarization, a rise in hate speech and rhetoric, and weakening institutions. In addition to these four factors, the United States is already experiencing a rise in violent events, which can themselves be a spark for further violence. We then suggest five domains for philanthropic efforts to increase societal resilience to political violence and strengthen the long-term foundations of a healthy democracy and society: (1) shaping group norms by bolstering inclusive, influential voices within diverse American communities; (2) supporting targeted communities; (3) laying the groundwork for a coordinated response to violence; (4) engaging communication strategically; and (5) protecting and strengthening capacities for resilience, specifically through supporting democratic institutions and reckoning with U.S. history.