Donald Trump is right, bless his heart.
“Harassment. This must end,” read a fundraising email from the president that landed in my inbox the other day.
Trump was referring to a series of inflammatory incidents: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was denied service at a Lexington, Va., restaurant. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House aide (and Duke graduate) Stephen Miller were heckled at Washington, D.C., restaurants. And Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was screamed at at a Tampa movie theater.
It all has sparked a debate in Democratic circles about whether such behavior is ethically acceptable — and even if it is acceptable, is it smart politics?
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Further fueling the discussion were the comments made by outspoken Democratic California U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, who said, “Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And 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.”
Several top Democratic leaders immediately sought to tamp down such talk, discouraging such actions.
“Trump’s daily lack of civility has provoked responses that are predictable but unacceptable,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
The party’s elders seem to think such attacks are counterproductive and only build sympathy for Trump and his administration among some persuadable voters. But activists say nothing should be done to lessen the anger of the anti-Trump feeling.
The president jumped on the issue. In his email, Trump wrote: “The left is trying to bully and buy their way back into power. Not on my watch.”
Trump has a point about civility. But being called out for bullying by Trump is like being called slow by a tortoise.
As you may recall, Trump was the GOP candidate who spread the malicious and untrue rumor that the father of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had been involved in the Kennedy assassination, ridiculed GOP candidate Carly Fiorina’s face, mimicked a disabled reporter and acquiesced in “lock her up” chants aimed at his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
His campaign rallies had an edge of violence as protesters and Trump egged each other on, with candidate Trump walking right up to the line in encouraging violence.
At a campaign rally I attended in Fayetteville, one of Trump’s supporters — an elderly Willie Nelson wannabe with a cowboy hat and pony tail — sucker-punched a protester who was already in police custody and was being led away.
There have been other instances of incivility.
In Asheville during the campaign, a Trump-supporting tow truck driver left a disabled woman stranded on the interstate when he saw that she had a Bernie Sanders sticker on her car.
“Something came over me, I think the Lord came to me, and he just said get in the truck and leave,” the truck driver told reporters.
Shortly after Republican N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory left office, during the Trump inaugural in Washington, he was accosted by several protesters who followed him down the street shouting “shame” and “anti-gay bigot” for his support of the transgender/bathroom bill.
Such protests that invade an individual's personal space are not new.
Gay activists in 1991 launched a 15-foot balloon in the shape of a condom over the Arlington, Va., home of then Republican Sen. Jesse Helms to tastelessly protest his opposition to AIDS research.
We are, of course, a deeply divided society. Although we have been deeply divided before – think the American Revolution, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the civil rights battles, the Vietnam War.
There are plenty of ways to make our voices heard. You can oust public officials at the ballot box, you can write angry letters, you can march in the streets, you can volunteer on campaigns, you can give money to your cause.
I understand there are important, and in some cases, profound issues at stake.
But there ought to be room for some personal space for Americans to live their lives, for a White House press secretary to have dinner with her family or for a stranded Bernie Sanders supporter to get her car towed from the interstate.
As we head into the Fourth of July holiday, we should think about what binds us as Americans — why our ancestors came here in the first place, and why this country is still such a magnet that millions risk their lives to try to come here. We have a tendency to magnify our differences and ignore our commonality.
I will end this column on a positive note.
The man who slugged the protester already in police custody at the Fayetteville Trump rally was sentenced to 12 months of probation. At his sentencing, 79-year old John Franklin McGraw, who is white, apologized to Rakeem Jones, the 27-year-old protester he punched.
“I’m extremely sorry this happened,” McGraw told Jones during a hearing at Cumberland County District Court. “I hate it worse than anything in the world.”
McGraw shook hands with Jones and the pair hugged as the courtroom erupted in applause.
“As far as race,” Jones, who is black, told reporters, “not one time throughout this whole six months have I mentioned his race. I got hit by a man, period. As far as race, I don’t know. It’s not my concern. I got hit by a man.”
Well, it’s a start.