For all the tough talk and swagger, it turns out that Donald Trump and some of his most zealous followers really have glass jaws. They relish dishing it out, but they sure can’t take it.
All of us remember a playground bully who picked on the most vulnerable kid relentlessly, only to start whimpering when someone finally knocked him back on his heels. It is one of the most enduring lessons of childhood.
And now that some of Trump’s opponents are pushing back, the Trump team is crying foul. If you are a big fan of civil public conversation, none of this is acceptable, but all of it was inevitable. And, taking another cue from the playground, it helps to look at who started it.
Beginning with the announcement of his candidacy, Trump telegraphed his agenda with a condemnation of all Mexicans, calling them criminals. Along the way, he has abused American war heroes, Gold Star parents, Muslims, Republicans, Democrats, the media, North and South Korea, China, Major League Baseball, the NFL, the disabled, his own Justice Department, judges and most of Europe (but not Russia or Vladimir Putin).
And this is just a small sample of Trump’s targets. Every day, he launches a barrage of abuse on anyone who disagrees with him, from public figures and politicians and celebrities to average citizens. His behavior is predictable enough that insults and abuse have become the Trump Doctrine.
So it is no wonder that some folks would start to give him and his closest advisers a little of the same. After the owner of the Red Hen in Lexington, Va., asked Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave her restaurant, Trump tweeted a defamatory assault on the small business.
But Trump supported Masterpiece Cake’s right to refuse service, based on the owners’ beliefs, to a same-sex couple. And, last summer, he ordered the military not to accept transgender recruits. These things violated the beliefs of the owner and staff of the Red Hen, and what’s good for the rooster is good for the hen.
Trump’s Department of Homeland Security secretary was chased from a Mexican restaurant in Washington by protestors shouting “shame.” Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser, was called a “fascist” while dining at another Mexican restaurant. The irony of their preference for good Mexican food was not lost.
These things have Trump supporters calling foul, because working for someone does not mean that you are in lockstep with everything he does. But these are the officials who turn Trump’s words into action. And that has made them targets, now that the anti-Trumps have taken their cue from their antagonist’s playbook.
While this quid pro quo of barbarism will only get worse, especially when the top guy has lowered the bar for public behavior, none of it is good for the republic. Civility is not a sign of weakness. Civility is the framework that allows us to air our grievances thoroughly and safely.
We have seen this before. And we have always bounced back, because our institutions remain strong. Hopefully, we will have serious debate again.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).