Why anyone would think you defeat Donald Trump by behaving like Donald Trump is a puzzlement to me, but othering and incitement are now passionately defended on the left as well as right. That’s showing him.
What’s no mystery at all is the visceral appeal of shunning and shaming: When I heard that Sarah Huckabee Sanders had been asked to leave a restaurant, part of me thought well, Madam, maybe if you didn’t lie for a living, on behalf of baby snatchers, you could have gotten past the cheese plate and stayed for the main course.
The problem with that impulse is that it’s wrong.
No good ever came of mirroring behavior we hate, and this won’t be the first time. If we go on like this, with billboards that invite liberals to keep on driving and never come back, and restaurants that only serve the right-minded, we'll be setting up segregated lunch counters of another kind. And whatever follows us down that road won’t be reconciliation; this is the sort of divide that wars are fought over.
Some of my liberal friends are quoting Elie Wiesel (“Neutrality helps the oppressor”) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”) and Martin Luther King Jr. (“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.) to justify harassing and threatening Trump aides.
But wrapping intolerance in religion doesn’t redeem it, and sending Sanders away hungry doesn’t make that Red Hen restaurant owner Rosa Parks, either. (Let’s see, does Jesus say do unto others as you see fit? Does Leviticus say love your neighbor unless you think he’s a miserable toad?)
I’m sick over this administration’s lack of humanity, too, but some of the rationalizations for repaying his team in kind are straight from the sandlot: They started it! Others cite the Supreme Court, and argue that the recent Masterpiece Cake decision somehow justifies turning away those who offend us. Only, that 7-2 decision did not legalize discrimination. And if it had, why would you want to answer one wrong with another?
The question, it seems to me, is not whether such behavior is legal, or whether Trump and his aides and supporters deserve opprobrium, but whether we want this to still be America, and to live together as one people, when this moment has passed.
The split is not Democrats versus Republicans, or liberals versus conservatives, but the supporters of someone who does not really seem to believe in democratic norms versus the Rs, Ds and Independents who think we’re on a dangerous path.
Over the weekend, I saw the wonderful movie about Fred Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and came out of the theater reminded that good is more powerful than we think, and evil less so. Then I saw that the Trump ally Pam Bondi, the attorney general of Florida, had to have a police escort out of a showing of the movie in Tampa. “I’m not Mister Rogers,” one of the protesters told The Tampa Bay Times. These days, fewer of us even aspire to be as kind as he was, and that’s a shame.
Every day, decency takes another dive, with our president one minute calling the pain of immigrants separated from their children “phony stories of sadness and grief,” and the next, rewarding Corey Lewandowski for mocking a girl with Down syndrome with a ride on Air Force One.
But emulating Trump’s harsh approach will only make him stronger this fall. In calling for attacks on Team Trump, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California is handing him exciting new fodder. That approach will only turn off the gettable and tune up the Trump faithful, who reportedly are high-fiving over her call to action.
So protest, yes, speak out, always, but could we do it without disrespecting half of the country?
What MLK and Bonhoeffer and Wiesel, and yes, Mister Rogers, too, knew that some of my friends don’t is that there is great power not only in brute force and brutal rhetoric, but in doing what's right.