Poor Mitch McConnell. Twice over the weekend, he was chased from restaurants in his hometown of Louisville by hecklers upset about the policies of his party and its president.
There was a similar confrontation June 26 in Washington, when protesters approached McConnell and his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as they left a dinner at George Washington University. “Leave my husband alone!” Chao yelled back.
High-profile Trump loyalists such as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and presidential advisers Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller have been heckled in restaurants and stores.
I understand the hecklers’ frustration. Republicans have a lock on federal power, and they are doing a lot of terrible things: Abusing migrant children, undermining democracy, rigging the judiciary, damaging the environment, lying with impunity, mistreating America's allies, praising dictators and further enriching wealthy people and corporations at everyone else’s expense.
But what these hecklers are doing is wrong. It is just as wrong as when Tea Party activists angry about health care reform heckled Democratic congressmen a few years ago. It also is counter-productive. Michelle Obama had the right idea: When they go low, we go high. That’s what good people do.
Sure, nobody has done more than Trump to destroy civility in America. He lies, he bullies, he insults. His juvenile taunts and tweets would get him expelled from any respectable middle school. McConnell isn’t as rude, but he is Washington’s biggest hypocrite and Trump’s most powerful enabler.
Their political base, encouraged by an increasingly toxic social media and right-wing broadcasting ecosystem, has dismissed civility as “political correctness.” Civility means nothing to them until opponents stoop to their level, then they are outraged.
When U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, encouraged the public shaming of Trump’s staff, Fox News went bonkers. Trump responded with a tweet referring to Waters, who is black, as an “extraordinarily low IQ person,” which many people saw as thinly veiled racism. But his political base loved it.
This strategy of heckling Trumpists in public reminds me of the old joke about why wrestling pigs is a bad idea: The pigs enjoy it and you just get dirty. Incivility only leads to more incivility, and more incivility often leads to violence. Violence gives authoritarians like Trump an excuse to crack down on critics and further undermine democracy. Is that the kind of country we want?
There are more civil — and more effective — ways to oppose this president, this Congress and their policies than making them martyrs in the eyes of their fans.
The best strategy is organized resistance. The most important thing Americans against Trump and McConnell can do is to organize to limit their power and eventually vote them out of office. That means supporting candidates who will reverse their disastrous policies. It also means voting against every politician who has supported them. Every single one.
If you are not registered to vote, register now at the Kentucky Secretary of State’s website: GoVoteKy.com. If you haven’t voted in awhile, go there to check that your registration is still valid. Make sure every anti-Trump friend and relative has done the same. Then show up at your polling place on election day and do your duty.
What else can you do? Rather than stooping to Trump’s level, follow the examples of Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. They taught people to confront incivility with civility, hatred with love, violence with non-violent resistance and injustice with civil disobedience. With that strategy, they achieved more lasting change than all of the 20th century’s bullies combined.
Republicans have become the party of lies and incivility. Thanks to Trump, it is now their official brand. If those who oppose them want to be seen as different, they must act differently.