Divisions over immigration policy spark rancor, acts of incivility

Updated June 25, 2018 - 6:24 pm

WASHINGTON — It’s getting ugly out there for President Donald Trump’s White House team. When they leave 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., they risk public shaming and are subject to mob intimidation.

Friday night as she was about to dine with her husband and children at The Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked to leave by the owner, because of Sanders’ work for Trump.

Earlier in the week, activists opposed to Trump’s “zero tolerance” border policy shouted at Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen as she dined at a tony Mexican restaurant. They also chanted, “Free the kids,” and “Shame Shame Shame,” in front of her Alexandria home Friday morning. They were so proud that they broadcast their protest on social media.

Also last week, actor Peter Fonda tweeted, “We should rip Barron Trump from his mother’s arms and put him in a cage with pedophiles.” Fonda later deleted the tweet.

At Monday’s press briefing, Sanders described the shaming episodes against her and Nielsen as efforts to “push for any Trump supporter to avoid the public.”

Some top Democrats have spoken out against these recent acts of incivility, while others have applauded them.

David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama, tweeted that he was “appalled by the number of folks on Left who applauded the expulsion of @PressSec and her family from a restaurant.” Axelrod objected to what he saw as “a triumph” for Trumpism.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., called for more taunts and shaming. Speaking to supporters Saturday, she said, “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

On Twitter, Trump responded by calling Waters “an extraordinarily low IQ person,” who should be careful what she wishes for.

“I guess we’re heading into an America with Democrat-only restaurants, which will lead to Republican-only restaurants,” tweeted Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary to President George W. Bush. “Do the fools who threw Sarah out, and the people who cheer them on, really want us to be that kind of country?”

“Historically, this is kind of standard,” observed Georgetown University Government Affairs Institute senior fellow Mark Harkins. Politics is a bare-knuckles occupation, and these episodes show “the Democrats aren’t above this kind of outrageous speaking” that they’ve told themselves is uniquely Trumpian.

For his part, Brad Blakeman, a GOP strategist and former Bush aide, finds the attempts to publicly shame Trump staffers and Waters’ rhetoric to be over the top.

“I think it’s inflammatory, incendiary,” he said. “I think it’s like shouting fire in a crowded theater.”

Republicans are keenly aware that the Illinois man who shot House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and other Republicans practicing for a charity baseball game last year was a rabid Trump hater.

“If anything happens to the people she mentioned,” Blakeman added, “she’s got to answer for it.”

Marc Sandalow, a political analyst with the University of California Washington Program, thinks that in-your-face social media can amplify these exchanges. He also said that Trump’s rhetoric has made the left feel that similar tactics are appropriate.

“My students do not see immigration as a policy fight,” Sandalow said. “They see it as a fundamental test of whether or not you are a racist.”

And “we’ve been taught that you should stand up to racism in whatever form it takes.”

Sandalow referred to a recent Supreme Court ruling on a baker who did not want to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

“If you believe that it is reasonable to allow a baker not to bake a cake because a couple is gay then it’s not a big step to believe it’s reasonable to allow a restaurant to refuse to serve a Trump confidante,” he said.

“A baker has a right not to bake,” responded Blakeman. “A restaurateur has a right not to serve, but they do it at their peril.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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