Last weekend, ten miles northwest of Duke’s campus, the Hillsborough GOP office was attacked in a late-night firebombing. The building had been doused in a so-called “Molotov cocktail” and then lit on fire. Workers arrived the next morning to find nothing but a charred office and a graffiti message reading: “Republican Nazis leave town or else.” The threat was embellished with a swastika.
This kind of aggression is deplorable in itself. A firebomb attack on any structure is a vile act of violence and destruction. And yet, this one is all the more terrifying for the political context in which it took place. Our nation is divided and during after one of the most polarizing election seasons in modern history. The aggressive and intense rhetoric displayed by both parties has undoubtedly played a role in rousing radicalism.
Coincidentally, on the very same night of the firebombing, two other acts of vandalism occurred in the Triangle. Just South of Durham, the Carrboro Democratic Party Office was spray-painted in the dead of night. The vandal left a message on the wall of the Office, saying “Death to Capitalism.” Representatives from the Carrboro Police Department are unsure of the identity of the vandal. Finally, right here at Duke, the East Campus Tunnel was spray-painted with racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic slurs. The bigoted language was found plastered on the tunnel by an event cosponsored by the NAACP, Mi Gente, and ASA later that day.
This sort of violence is rare in American elections. With a few exceptions, the United States can be lauded for its bloodless, tranquil, peaceful transitions of power. However, an uptick in political violence this election season is incredibly worrisome.
Whether a series of coincidences or a coordinated effort, these acts of vandalism and politically-motivated destruction represent a grave concern for this country. Republicans and Democrats alike have been affected by a wave of anti-establishment fervor, and the gap between the two parties is wider than ever before. Hostile and petty rhetoric only fuels the fire, encouraging forms of insurgency and anger. In North Carolina in particular, Democrats and Republicans seem to be on incredibly different pages. Democrats feel frustrated and marginalized by the past six years of Republican leadership in the state, while Republicans find Democratic protests annoying and unnecessary. It’s as if there are two entirely different states within this state. Regardless of the firebomber’s identity, an attack on a local GOP office is an attack on us all, if only because it violates our core democratic belief that violence has no place in our political system.
Through all of this fear-mongering and bigotry, I choose to see a ray of hope. In response to the attack on the GOP, a group of North Carolina Democrats set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the reopening of the office. The group met its $10,000 goal within 40 minutes of going live, sending an important message that transcends partisan politics. No party holds a monopoly on empathy, nor compassion. The fact that a group of Democrats was able to come together with Republicans and condemn violence is a good step in itself. But in a truly wonderful and collaborative movement, this group was able to come to the aid of its supposed political opponents.
In this moment, we face a unique choice. Going forward, we can either choose to continue down this path of divisiveness, or we can take a play from the GoFundMe page. We have the opportunity to come together, two parties and their millions of constituents, and rebuild our broken system.