If there’s one thing Donald Trump’s supporters can’t stand, it’s incivility.
Not, to be clear, the President’s incivility—his schoolyard bully taunts, foul-mouthed putdowns, casual racism and misogyny, incitements to violence, threats to imprison political opponents, and so on. His supporters are pretty much OK with all that.
No, what gets their goat is the appalling incivility of the political left. It’s almost as though people in power can’t even lock children in cages anymore without being subjected to some serious sass.
Poor Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was taunted at a Mexican restaurant while thousands of caged kids were getting a taste of her boss’s sense of justice, something she actually denied was happening. Poor Trump adviser Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that led to this horror, was called names while also just trying to chow down some Mexican food.
Poor White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was politely asked to leave a restaurant whose staff decided that it didn’t want to serve her, given her record of meanness and mendacity. Poor Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt got a royal scolding over his swampish behavior and disregard for the environment from a mom clutching a child while he, too, was just trying to dine out. His feelings were hurt so bad he quit.
“I think it’s a sad day in America when Democrats’ only message is to attack people that support this President and support this country,” Sanders clucked in response to an MSNBC commentator who had defended giving Trumpsters a hard time.
The commentator, Jennifer Rubin, is actually a conservative; her blog in The Washington Post is called “Right Turn.” Here’s what she said: “Sarah Huckabee [Sanders] has no right to live a life of no fuss, no muss, after lying to the press—after inciting against the press. These people should be made uncomfortable. . . .”
Others agree. U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, recently told supporters, “If you see anybody from the Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, and a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd to push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”
It is critical that progressives have a debate over tactics.
President Trump, in a demonstration of his own level of civility, responded with a tweet calling Waters “an extraordinarily low IQ person” and falsely stating that she “has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement.”
It is critical that progressives have a debate over tactics. We are faced with a situation that demands active resistance. The future of our democracy depends on our speaking out. And how we go about that matters.
The Progressive has always championed freedom of speech, even for those whose views we abhor. But let’s be clear: Telling off a government official is not an infringement on his or her right to free speech but an assertion of the speaker’s own.
Consider the story actor Seth Rogen told on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert about being invited to a mostly Republican event because of his charity work on Alzheimer’s disease. He was approached by Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, asking for a photo.
“No way, man!” Rogen replied. “I hate what you’re doing with the country at this moment, and I’m counting the days till you no longer have one iota of the power that you currently have.” Dude, you rule.
Most people, of course, are not invited to events where they can rub shoulders with Paul Ryan, especially if they happen to be his constituents. But we all are presented with opportunities to oppose Trumpism, through protests, direct action, and, yes, confrontation. We can be that person who shows up at one of Trump’s nonstop campaign events, holding a placard expressing dissent. We can refuse to participate in the implausibly rising stock market, shifting investments to safer options. We can give money to organizations that are taking on Trump—like, for instance, The Progressive.
Yet caution is in order. As former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt has said, “Nobody can compete with Donald Trump in a vileness contest. He’s the most vile. Nobody can compete with Donald Trump in a dishonesty contest, because he’s the most dishonest.”
In standing up to the President, we must not sink to his level. We must know that every naughty word we utter will be used against us; every overwrought analogy will be seized upon.
In standing up to the President, we must not sink to his level. We must know that every naughty word we utter will be used against us; every overwrought analogy will be seized upon. Trump’s supporters, who have no problem with his own calls to “beat the crap” out of protesters, are constantly in search of reasons to be offended by his foes. Just look at their reaction to the mild rebukes endured by Trump Administration officials, none of which involved violence.
“The left once decried attacking people, maliciously attacking them in public for their beliefs, their lifestyles,” chided Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “And any blood spilled will be on the hands . . . of Maxine Waters and any Democrats or Never Trumpers condoning tacitly or explicitly these Antifa-style tactics of vicious intimidation.”
Ingraham’s gross exaggerations aside, this is a person who demonstrated her own concept of civility by mocking a teenage survivor of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. (After advertisers began to flee, Ingraham apologized.)
What Trump demands of us is more speech, not timidity. We need to be creative in finding ways to express displeasure toward the President, which he has shown is the only real check on his cruelty.
Trump rescinded his policy of separating kids from their parents at the border only because he was getting huge blowback from a broad swath of the American public. Similarly, his nomination of federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court can be thwarted only by a mass opposition that puts pressure on Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, who favor reproductive rights, and red-state Democrats including Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who voted for Trump’s last high court pick, Neil Gorsuch.
Republicans will pull out all the stops to affirm a justice who will eliminate reproductive choice, wink at wholesale gerrymandering and voter suppression, kneecap unions and undermine workers’ rights, further erode the boundary between church and state, and use the justice system as an instrument of injustice. Progressives must respond with the urgency this demands, fighting for their vision of a fair society—against the dreadful reality that the worst is likely yet to come.
Whatever hope anyone may have harbored that the damage caused by Trump might somehow be contained is gone. This President is an unmitigated disaster, careening toward unparalleled catastrophe.
On domestic issues, Trump has done nothing besides bask in a moderate improvement of the economy wrought by his predecessor. No rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure. As little progress as possible on alternative energy. No investment in job creation or the improvement of public education. No visionary programs beyond a call to create a new branch of the military to weaponize space.
Lacking any moral or intellectual center, Trump whiplashes between sudden bursts of hot and cold, like urging Republicans to “stop wasting their time on immigration” just days after pledging “1,000 percent” support for an immigration bill. He radiates contempt for law enforcement—the “deep state”—even as the Mueller probe mines the mounting evidence of criminality related to his electoral success. (Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, elsewhere in this issue, says he believes Russian interference swayed the election to Trump.)
Trump has disparaged the media in a calculated attempt to undermine one of the few remaining checks on his power. He admitted as much in an off-camera conversation with 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl, which she later revealed. Asked why he pushed his intellectually dishonest “Fake News” narrative, the President replied, “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.” (If Trump’s “enemies of the people” rhetoric didn’t spur the mass murder of journalists at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, it certainly had something to do with the “death threats and people celebrating our loss” received afterward by the paper’s survivors.)
On economic policy, Trump has initiated foolish trade wars that are already hurting U.S. jobs and driving up costs for U.S. consumers. A June report by the consulting firm Trade Partnerships Worldwide predicts a net loss of more than 400,000 U.S. jobs over the next three years due to tariffs and trade wars. Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy are now projected to add $1.8 trillion to the national debt, creating the highest debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio since World War II, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Trump’s foreign policy runs the gamut from incompetence to incoherence, as he cozies up to dictators and insults longtime allies. The great negotiator, who walked away from a multination deal with Iran that everyone including his own advisers concluded was working, decided that all North Korea needed to do to win concessions from the United States was to reiterate vague promises of the sort it has broken in the past. And Trump’s groveling subservience to Vladimir Putin is a national disgrace.
It is time for the American people to adopt a policy of “zero tolerance” toward Donald Trump. The President and members of his administration should be confronted and resisted—nonviolently and without suppression of speech—at every turn. Yes, what we need in this country, under this President, is a war. A war of ideas. A war of values. A war over who we are as a nation.
Let’s have that war. And let’s keep it civil.