Does She Know Where This Leads?

(Editor’s Note:  Given the events of last weekend in Lexington and the predominance of Administration – any Administration — appointed officials living in Virginia, this column in National Review struck us as particularly timely.  Our nation is heading down the dangerous road of intolerance by all sides.  The time to pull the emergency break is now.)

Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters, calling for attacks on the Trump administration at a rally in Los Angeles Saturday: “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

How exactly does Maxine Waters think this is going to shake out?

Does she think this tactic will be used only by leftist protesters, only against Trump cabinet officials, and that in no circumstance will “pushing back at them” lead to violence against those targeted individuals? Does she think that there is no possible scenario where the security details assigned to protect cabinet officials from harm respond to threatening behavior with force? Does she think that there’s a scenario where the cabinet officials, the president, and his supporters in general decide that because so many leftists are angry, they had better change their minds and their policies?

Does she envision a near-future where Trump and the Right in general avoid policy proposals that offend or anger Leftists, out of a fear of being targeted for “pushback” that will make them unwelcome anywhere?

The only counter-evidence for these scenarios is the entirety of human existence and the complete history of angry mobs. Angry mobs are not discerning or careful. They do not distinguish between their initial target and anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Charles Murray described how an angry mob at Middlebury College attacked political-science professor Allison Stanger as she attempted to walk him to his car after a disrupted speech event:

I didn’t see it happen, but someone grabbed Allison’s hair just as someone else shoved her from another direction, damaging muscles, tendons, and fascia in her neck. I was stumbling because of the shoving. If it hadn’t been for Allison and Bill keeping hold of me and the security guards pulling people off me, I would have been pushed to the ground. That much is sure. What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.

Stanger disagrees with Murray politically — but the mob didn’t care; she was next to him and for that she got a concussion.

Angry mobs are not good for deterring a particular unwanted behavior. They are good for instilling fear and giving a lot of people an excuse to let out all of their antisocial or violent impulses with a thin patina of moral righteousness. “I’m not harassing and assaulting another human being, I’m standing up for human rights!” No doubt the man who tried to kill as many GOP congressmen as he could at the baseball field in Alexandria, Va., believed he was standing up for good causes and doing the right thing.

>Harassment of public figures on the right is only going to lead to harassment of public figures on the left. No doubt everyone remembers their own favorite example of a breach of decorum and proper behavior: the guy in the Miami cheesecake factory, Joe Wilson shouting out “you lie!” at an Obama address to Congress, the man who dumped a beer on a lawmaker in a bar, the guy who harangued Ivanka Trump on a flight. The fake blood thrown at the private home of an NRA lobbyist. The guy who threw water at Tomi Lahren in a restaurant in New York. The audience disruptions at Julius Ceasar and Robert De Niro’s A Bronx Tale.

Some no doubt would argue that the president himself threw gasoline on this fire. At a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in February 2016, Trump said, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, okay. Just knock the hell — I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise.” And then in Saint Louis a month later, Trump lamented that no one sufficiently hurts protesters at his speeches: “Nobody wants to hurt each other anymore, right? And they’re being politically correct the way they take them out, so it takes a little bit longer. And honestly, protesters, they realize it. They realize that there are no consequences to protesting anymore.”

This is a genie that does not go back into the bottle easily. A lot of people in politics remember the examples of their side being attacked and conclude this is how the entirety of the opposition wants to play the game. The rallying cry on the Right on Twitter these days is “you’re going to hate the new rules” — basically conservatives cheerfully announcing they or their brethren will adopt any tactic used by the Left. Turnabout is fair play; what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. (Lord knows I’ve long lamented the glaring double standard and the need for one bipartisan set of rules for public debate.)

The problem is that this cycle of tit-for-tat leads more and more people conclude that the opposition only understands the language of force and that they cannot be negotiated with, persuaded, or even tolerated in a form of coexistence.

We could steer away from this path, if there was a broad, across-the-spectrum denunciation of comments like the one from Waters, reemphasizing that in the United States, we settle our differences through debate and discourse and the ballot box and in the courtroom — not by stirring up an angry crowd and implying (or maybe more than implying) a threat of physical violence against the political opposition. But that’s too much to ask in this polarized — Balkanized? — environment, isn’t it?

©2018 National Review. Used with permission.

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About Jim Geraghty

Jim Geraghty is National Review’s senior political correspondent.
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