A few weeks ago White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., because the owner didn’t like her defending President Trump and his policies.
If Sanders didn’t appreciate being publicly shunned, she can take some measure of solace in the fact she isn’t the only member of the Trump administration receiving the same hostile treatment.
The same week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was driven out of a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C., by hecklers who berated her for her defense of Trump’s family separations at the border.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was harassed and allegedly spit on recently by left-wing activists at a movie theater for her support of Trump. According to reports, Trump Senior Adviser Stephen Miller has been targeted by angry protesters at a number of restaurants and bars around Washington, D.C. They harangued him until he beat a hasty exit each time.
A week ago a Virginia bookstore owner called police after a customer began harassing former White House strategist Steve Bannon in his shop. According to reports, the woman confronted Bannon and called him a “piece of trash.”
To be sure, citizens calling out politicians or public officials is nothing new in the United States. Our country was founded on the very premise. America has a rich and venerable history of people passionately expressing their dissatisfaction with their elected officials.
But the frequency and ugliness of these recent incidents involving the staff of the president is concerning.
In each case the harassment took place outside of work during non-working hours. They suggest we are entering a new era of “anything goes” incivility. Is this the new normal in terms of how we petition the government for a redress of grievances?
Call us old-fashioned, but we don’t feel chasing anyone out of a restaurant or store over politics is something that should be condoned, much less celebrated.
But celebrate is exactly what many of us did when we learned of these incidents. What is as disturbing as the actual targeting of these public officials, is the widespread support the acts received on social media and in other media outlets.
“They deserve what they get,” was the refrain we read and heard from a troubling number of people who commented on the incidents.
Maybe it should come as no surprise that some would also look to hold members of Team Trump accountable as well for polices they find so distasteful. But it does suggest we are entering a new era of incivility.
It’s easy to blame Trump for causing this recent wave of incivility. He has turned up the heat on political rhetoric to a temperature that is causing passions to boil over. He is a one-man tsunami of obnoxiousness when it comes to the way he treats people, especially those he disagrees with.
That is a personality trait that endears him to his base. He doesn’t care about civility and he isn’t going to change. That is why the anger and divisiveness in politics is likely going to get worse. The corrosive nature of our country’s public discourse will continue.
Our guess is that more public officials will be driven from restaurants, bookstores, movie theaters and other public spaces.
No hearts or minds will be changed as a result of these actions — people on both sides of the political spectrum will only become more entrenched and intransigent. Moreover, fewer people will sign up for public service on the grounds that it’s just not worth it to them or their families.
And sadly, the United States will be more divided than ever.