White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is refused service at The Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen is chased out of a restaurant in DC by protestors who then also protest outside her home.
FCC Chair Ajit Pai is faced with posted signs on his street harassing him and his children. Fox News Contributor Tomi Lahren has a glass of water thrown at her while she is out eating with her parents.
All of these aforementioned events have taken place in just the last few weeks, as it seems some of our nation’s citizens have lost an understanding of how to appropriately engage in political disagreement.
Unfortunately some have fanned the fires of this sentiment, such as Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) who recently encouraged personal harassment of Republican leaders and their families, saying “Let's make sure we show up wherever we have to show up…[a]nd you push back on them.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) rightly condemned her statements, in a reminder that our seemingly increasingly coarse national discourse is not in as much of a hopeless spiral as just a glance at the headlines initially makes it seem.
People can, and indeed often rightly should, get excited and involved in the political issues of the day. Indeed that is part of the beauty of America, where each citizen can engage in our policy process whether through voting, donating, activism, or otherwise.
However there is a wide canyon between civic participation and extreme action, such as harassing our public officials or other citizens involved in the political process. The former is a defining attribute of our country, the latter a path to a variety of different forms of tyrannies that each share their same quelling of the human spirit.
Even long before recent events polling has shown that Americans on both sides of the aisle are increasingly worried about political violence. According to a June 2017 Rasmussen Reports poll, 76% believe its risk is up compared to recent years.
The overwhelming bulk of Americans find political harassment and violence despicable. One of the reasons that the American republic has survived through the centuries and challenges as it has is because our governance system is designed to allow us to resolve even our most tense disputes in a cordial and peaceful fashion.
The genius of the Founding Fathers has survived to this day, even if adapted through the very process they designed. Nonetheless, the United States has the oldest surviving foundational framework in the world because it is designed to bring in all voices and create solutions through a process that never pleases everyone, but is satisfying enough to remain part of our social contract.
Undoubtedly the American people by-and-large, whether Democrat or Republican, agree with the aforementioned sentiments. While it seems like our public discourse often focuses on only the conflicts that come between the two sides, in the end these remain the few aberrations in a largely peaceful co-existence.
That isn’t to say that incidents may be increasing, as pushed by extremists of both the ultra-left and ultra-right whose purpose is to coarsen our discourse and try to crack our society. Though they are numerically tiny, perhaps no more than just 5% of the population combined on all radical sides, they nonetheless are dangerous because they are often purposely trying to push the buttons and fragile weak points to bring our American structure down.
The best option I believe remains to not buy into not only the message but the very premises of the arguments they are selling. Our country is currently historically divided and hyperpolarized in terms of policies and attitudes, but by-and-large our citizens are good, generous, and patriotic people who carry on their lives day-to-day in creating each new page of the American story.
If we let these radicals feel that they have power through their tactics, then that is the beginning of their triumph. When we begin to fear or see others through the lens they paint, that is how they gain ground in their nefarious schemes, whether on the ultra-left or ultra-right.
As our country moves forward, we should remember that in the end these radicals only truly have the power we choose to give them. Our country’s people are incredible, strong, and differ in every possible way, whether by belief or characteristic, and always will.
Yet as Americans, we share a core belief in the worth, dignity, and aspirations of the human spirit. I believe that will be what helps pull us out from this proverbial ditch, as it has so many times in our history before.