Las Vegas Sun

December 15, 2018

Currently: 49° — Complete forecast

Sun editorial:

By stooping to Trump’s level, his critics only further divide the nation

With his hate-filled rhetoric, tweets and policies, President Donald Trump is doing his best to divide the nation into two warring tribes — those loyal to him, and everybody else.

Americans can’t let that happen. But some are doing just that by letting their anger get the best of them and stooping to Trump’s level.

When Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., urges her supporters to confront and harass members of the Trump administration, that’s playing right into Trump’s hands. Vilifying fellow Americans does nothing but provoke us-versus-them animosity, drive people further apart and allow Trump to rip apart the fabric of the nation.

The way to oppose polarized politics is to stop regarding the other side as the enemy, not follow Trump down a low road that could lead to irreversible division.

Make no mistake, Trump created this vile climate and is the lead perpetrator of it. Americans have every right to oppose this instigator in chief, who has shattered standards of decorum and shamed the entire nation by lashing out against those who dare question or oppose him.

But civility will eventually win out, which is why Waters and others who are justifiably critical of Trump should dial down the rage and insist on civil behavior.

That doesn’t mean there should be no consequences for Trump’s actions. There absolutely should, but they shouldn’t include calls for harassment or a refusal to serve someone in a restaurant strictly on moral or ethical grounds.

Boycotting businesses that support Trump by advertising on Fox News and other pro-Trump media is a valid option. Writing sharply critical emails or letters to Trump, his Cabinet members, his key supporters and his enablers in Congress is another. Refusing to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders or someone else in Trump’s circle crossed the line in a similar way to refusing to provide a cake for a same-sex marriage, but providing service in complete silence would have sent a powerful message of disapproval. So would offering service with a side of face-to-face, unapologetic criticism.

Being civil doesn’t mean being passive and meek. Trump and his base of fellow fringe extremists need to pay a social cost for the damage they’re causing. And if they continue down this path, at some point it will be appropriate to ratchet up the resistance.

But fighting Trump’s incivility with incivility isn’t productive.

This applies everywhere and at all times. Although a protest of Trump’s recent appearance at the Nevada state Republican convention was overwhelmingly peaceful and respectful, for instance, there were several examples of people borrowing from Trump’s playbook by getting into profane shouting matches with Trump supporters, carrying obscene signs and so on.

Grabbing a megaphone from someone and shouting “F*** Trump” over and over isn’t getting anybody anywhere. Same goes when an actor makes the same statement during an awards show. It’s just spewing venom, and there’s more than enough of that already coming from Trump.

Granted, Trump’s behavior is enough to make anyone see red. His unfair and unprecedented attacks on Americans — not just his political opponents in both parties, but law enforcement authorities, individuals and even businesses like Harley-Davidson and Amazon — are the stuff of a dictator. And the outrageous claims he makes in those attacks — “Democrats don’t care about crime,” undocumented immigrants want to “infest” the U.S., etc. — are the stuff of a lunatic.

But forming camps is how the wheels come off of a democracy. It’s how the U.S. nearly tore itself apart in the 1860s and again a century later during the civil rights and Vietnam eras.

Now comes Trump, who, in fanning hatreds and lumping anyone who objects into the category of “them,” is threatening to create chaos and once again turn the American people against each other.

In these tense times, it’s critical for Americans to remember that regardless of how fiercely or fundamentally we disagree with each other, we’re countrymen with an abundance of shared self-interests and the right to freely discuss our differences. Dissenting is one thing, including through a boycott or some other civil act, but building walls of disrespect and intolerance is quite another.

If Trump and his base want to commit that sin, that’s on them.

But in following suit, the majority of Americans would only be debasing themselves and hurting each other, not Trump. They’ve already shown how they feel about Trump, having given the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Now, the way to beat him back is to stick together, vote out the majorities he enjoys in Congress and eventually replace him in 2020, if he’s still in office by then.

In other words, the way forward is to be unified, reasonable and constructive — and to leave the extremism, the bullying, the ranting and the hate to Trump and those who’ve chosen to be in his camp.