Politically frenzied New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg came out unapologetically for the harassment of Trump staffers (the latest examples being Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Florida’s pro-Trump Attorney General Pam Bondi) as summed up in the column’s text box: “Trump officials deserve public shaming.”
Last year, the white nationalist Richard Spencer was kicked out of his Virginia gym after another member confronted him and called him a Nazi. This incident did not generate a national round of hand-wringing about the death of tolerance, perhaps because most people tacitly agree that it’s O.K. to shun professional racists.
It’s a little more complicated when the professional racist is the president of the United States. The norms of our political life require a degree of bipartisan forbearance. But treating members of Donald Trump’s administration as ordinary public officials rather than pariahs does more to normalize bigotry than exercising alongside a white separatist.
Naturally, all this has led to lots of pained disapproval from self-appointed guardians of civility. A Washington Post editorial urged the protesters to think about the precedent they are setting. “How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?” it asked.
Goldberg looked for violent ideologues in history and found them solely in the anti-abortion movement, ignoring the firebombing, bank-robbing and incendiary racial conflicts of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Not to mention the assaults on Trump supporters and other conservatives by self-styled anarchists like Antifa.
Of course, this is not hard to imagine at all, since abortion opponents have assassinated abortion providers in their homes and churches, firebombed their clinics and protested at their children’s schools. The Roman Catholic Church has shamed politicians who support abortion rights by denying them communion. [Denying communion has been discussed, but rarely practiced, and often just discussed in private.] The failure to acknowledge this history is a sign of the reflexive false balance that makes it hard for the mainstream media to grapple with the asymmetric extremism of the Republican Party.
While admitting some uncertainly on the effectiveness of the tactic, she wholeheartedly embraced the emotion behind it.
On the other hand, there’s a moral and psychic cost to participating in the fiction that people who work for Trump are in any sense public servants. I don’t blame staff members at the Virginia restaurant, the Red Hen, for not wanting to help Sanders unwind after a hard week of lying to the public about mass child abuse....
Goldberg defended the “public shaming” with a list of horribles committed by Trump:
....He has ruled exclusively for his vengeful supporters, who love the way he terrifies, outrages and humiliates their fellow citizens. Trump installed the right-wing Neil Gorsuch in the Supreme Court seat that Republicans stole from Barack Obama. Gorsuch, in turn, has been the fifth vote in decisions on voter roll purges and, on Monday, racial gerrymandering that will further entrench minority rule.....millions and millions of Americans watch helplessly as the president cages children, dehumanizes immigrants, spurns other democracies, guts health care protections, uses his office to enrich himself and turns public life into a deranged phantasmagoria with his incontinent flood of lies....The right’s revulsion against a black president targeted by birther conspiracy theories is not the same as the left’s revulsion against a racist president who spread birther conspiracy theories.
She concluded with a warning to those Trump staffers foolish enough to go out in public in a free country:
If they don’t want to hear from the angry citizens they’re supposed to serve, let them eat at Trump Grill.