Something Nice to Say

I suppose you’ll regard me a sentimental old fluff, but I’ve always had a soft spot for politicians who say nice things about their opponents.  Partisanship in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere has grown so absolute in recent years, mutating into more and more of a zero-sum blood sport, that it feels outright quaint when some senator or other puts in a good word for a colleague of the other party—especially when he or she has no particular reason to do so.

As the nation commemorates the death of John McCain—war hero, senator and two-time presidential candidate—a great deal has been said and written about the moment in 2008 when McCain defended the honor of Barack Obama against the racist ranting of some idiot at a town hall.  (The audience member called Obama “an Arab.”  McCain responded, “He’s a decent family man.”)  While one can argue McCain’s retort was itself racist—who knew Islam and decency were mutually exclusive?—it was plainly, if clumsily, meant in a spirit of generosity towards a man who, at that moment, posed an existential threat to McCain’s greatest ambition in life:  the presidency.

While that flourish of sportsmanship had acquired near-mythical status even before McCain’s death, what has been largely forgotten is how careful then-Senator Obama was about showing due deference to McCain every time his name came up.  Watch any stump speech from that period, and you’ll find Obama preceding virtually any criticism of his electoral adversary with some iteration of, “John McCain is an American hero and we honor his service.”

For Obama, there were both moral and strategic reasons to maintain an effusive respect for McCain’s personal history and character, and they reflected well on both men.  Having not served in the armed forces himself—much less withstood five-and-half years of torture as a prisoner of war—Obama understood he could not attempt to out-patriot McCain without making himself look ridiculous, so instead he simply conceded the point and moved on.

In so doing, Obama demonstrated both a humility and self-confidence about his lack of military service that few other non-veteran politicos (including a certain sitting president) possess.  It was as if to say, “I don’t need to be the braver man in order to be the better president.”  In the end, the American people agreed.

Because presidential (and other) elections have grown exponentially nastier over the past decade, with candidates loath to cede the slightest advantage to their challengers—reticent, indeed, to view them as human beings—it has largely fallen to the press to coax a touch of class out of these otherwise soulless contests.  More often than not, televised debates will feature some version of the question, “What is one thing you admire about your opponent?”  It’s an entirely worthy query to include in a public forum, precisely because so few politicians are willing (or able) to provide an honest answer.  As such, their responses often provide a useful insight into their psyches.

Historically, the most typical response is an approximation of Hillary Clinton’s in 2016, when she offered that the most (read:  only) admirable thing about Donald Trump was the apparent love of his family—a weak, lazy, evasive answer that recalls Bill Maher’s quip, “Hitler’s dog liked him.”  Oddly, Trump’s (forced) compliment for Clinton—“She doesn’t quit; she doesn’t give up; I respect that”—registered as the far more genuine and heartfelt of the two.  Who’d a thunk?

More impressive still—not least for its specificity—was Elizabeth Warren in her first Senate race, in 2012, against Republican incumbent Scott Brown, whom she complimented in a debate for his Senate vote to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy that had prevented LGBT soldiers from serving openly.  As a liberal Democrat in Massachusetts, Warren would’ve had good reason not to mention what was arguably Brown’s most progressive act in the Senate—i.e., the decision most likely to win him a decisive number of Democratic votes on Election Day—yet, instead, she gave him credit for doing the right thing at a critical moment, unafraid that it would backfire at the polls.  In the end, it didn’t.

And why should it have?  For all the junk energy the public derives from WWE-style political gamesmanship, Americans equally appreciate—and are presently starved for—such old-time virtues as generosity, modesty and temperance from their representatives on Capitol Hill.  We may no longer expect that sort of upstanding behavior from these disreputable people, but seeing as we continue to pay their salaries and bear the consequences of all their official acts, we should jolly well demand nothing less.

Speaking well of one’s counterparts, however disagreeable, constitutes a form of charity in an otherwise bankrupt world—a means of acknowledging someone else’s humanity even while engaged in a political duel to the death—and it is my fondest wish that more public figures would the run the risk of making other people look good every now and again, understanding that, in a roundabout way, it will make themselves look pretty good, too.

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Cult 45

Way back in 2015, when the candidacy of Donald Trump struck most of America as a joke, many of us floated the theory—with tongue only half in cheek—that Trump was actually a Democratic Party plant, installed in the GOP primaries to discredit the entire Republican Party and ensure Hillary Clinton would be elected president in November 2016.

While history has rendered this hypothesis obsolete, there remains the underlying assumption upon which the theory was based, which is that Trump serves as a moral Rorschach test for every would-be conservative in America.

Posed as a question, the test is simply this:  How many of your so-called principles are you prepared to sacrifice on the altar of the most unprincipled man in America?  How many bridges are you willing to jump off before realizing that each one leads to nowhere?

If Donald Trump shot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue, would you still vote for him in 2020?

Of course, it was Trump himself who asserted early on that the answer to that last question is “yes” among his core supporters, and if the last three years have taught us anything, it’s that he couldn’t have been more right.

At this point in his presidency, Trump is not a public servant so much as a personality cult, and as the corruption piles up and more and more of his deputies get hauled off to prison, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is a certain fraction of the American public—roughly 30 percent, although estimates vary—who are so emotionally invested in Trump—the man, the brand, the whatever—that no amount of criminality is strong enough to penetrate the bubble of loyalty that exists between the commander-in-chief and his fellow travelers, the latter of whom appear utterly incapable of seeing what is directly in front of their noses—namely, that the man they worship is a crook.

They’re not drinking the Kool-Aid.  They’re injecting it intravenously.

As with all personality cults, the fundamental problem isn’t the leader himself; it’s his followers.  Any schmuck can stand on a platform and declare himself king.  The question is whether there is a critical mass of people desperate and gullible enough to hand him the crown and obey his every command.  There is no con without a mark, and it remains truly frightening how many of them the 45th president has acquired and maintained from the moment he entered the political fray.

While Trump undoubtedly constitutes the most insidious personality cult in American life today, his is hardly the only one from which to choose.  Unseemly as it might sound, Republicans hardly have a monopoly on prostrating themselves to a populist politician who promises them the moon.

How else to describe the famous “Bernie Bros”?  You know them:  The far-left supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders who quote his über-progressive platform word-for-word and will expound for hours about how the 2016 primaries were rigged—rigged, I tell you!—against their beloved Bernie by the evil Democratic Party establishment.  Never mind that Hillary Clinton received 3.7 million more votes than Sanders, winning 34 contests to Sanders’s 23:  The point, sayeth the Bros, is that Sanders was the only Democratic contender who could’ve defeated Trump in 2016, and in 2020 it is he—and he alone!—who could pry Trump from power and usher his socialist utopia into existence.

Sure sounds cultish to me.

This is not to imply a moral equivalence between Sanders and Trump, only one of whom is a repugnant, shameless charlatan with no sense of basic human decency.  Say what you will about the junior senator from Vermont and his pie-in-the-sky ideas, but Sanders has shown not a whiff of the racism or xenophobia that—odious as they are in one person—can quickly grow dangerous and deadly when harnessed by millions of mindless lemmings who believe they are acting on the Dear Leader’s orders.

And yet, in the end, a cult is still a cult, and the unifying characteristic of all cults is mindlessness—i.e., the willful suspension of one’s intellectual faculties in service of a singular Great Man to whom all loyalty is owed and from whom all of life’s problems will be solved.  If the unquestioned adherence to Trump by the MAGA crowd takes this tendency to new heights—or should we say depths?—by and large, much the same was true for the most hardcore supporters of Barack Obama, whose very existence was seen as a panacea for all the partisan discord ravaging Washington, D.C., circa 2008.

In time, of course, a majority of Obama’s admirers came to realize that, for all his personal qualities, the 44th president could not walk on water after all, and was as capable of betraying his campaign promises as any commander-in-chief who came before him.

Will the aura of infallibility eventually break among those who worship Donald Trump—a man who, unlike Obama, seems to truly believe he can do no wrong?

Meet me on Fifth Avenue for the answer.

A Woman in the House

Will 2018 be the year of the black woman in Boston?

Massachusetts’ primary elections will be held on September 4—the day after Labor Day, regrettably—and while there are several interesting intra-party races across the Bay State this season, far and away the most compelling is the Democratic nominating contest for the 7th congressional district between incumbent Michael Capuano and his challenger, Boston city councilor Ayanna Pressley.

District 7—encompassing most of Boston and a handful of surrounding towns—is the most ethnically and racially diverse in the state (only one-third of its residents are white), yet it has been represented for the last 20 years by Capuano, a straight white man, who has not faced a serious challenger from either party since his first campaign in 1998.

The main reason for this—apart from the historical tendency for incumbents to be re-elected at a near-100 percent rate—is that Capuano, 66, is an unabashed across-the-board liberal who has consistently spoken and voted in the interests of his constituents since the day he took office.  (Among other things, he boasts perfect ratings from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Human Rights Campaign, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the NAACP.)  As such, the good people of the 7th district have found little reason to make a change in who represents them on Capitol Hill.

Until now.

Ayanna Pressley, 44, who has been resoundingly re-elected to the Boston City Council biennially since 2009, is gunning for Capuano’s seat without any particular beef with his record or worldview.  Offered the chance to differentiate her political views from his, Pressley is wont to change the subject or talk herself into a corner, underlining the awkward fact that when it comes to the proverbial issues, there is virtually no daylight between these two candidates.  Line-by-line, pound-for-pound, Capuano and Pressley embody two sides of the same liberal coin.

Pressley’s real argument—enunciated in every interview and every debate—is that there is more to being a congressperson than having the right views or voting the right way.  That in a district where being left-of-center goes without saying, it is equally (if not more) important that a representative possess the life experience and perspective necessary to champion the needs of America’s demographic underdogs, of which her district contains multitudes.

As a black woman with a turbulent upbringing (she speaks of being the victim of multiple sexual assaults in her youth), Pressley presents herself as precisely the sort of person District 7 needs in 2018:  A poised, energetic, indefatigable advocate for her fellow women and people of color, prepared to stand toe-to-toe with House Republicans in defense of everything from abortion rights to criminal justice reform.  If she and Capuano are more-or-less ideologically interchangeable on paper, Pressley is the one with real skin in the game—and, by implication, will fight just a little bit harder for the kind of society her district wants and deserves.

The down-and-dirty truth is that Pressley is running for Congress as if Capuano didn’t exist—or, more precisely, as if his were an open seat and Capuano had no institutional advantage and deserved no benefit of the doubt.  (Capuano regularly cites his seniority as a virtue.)  She is running, in short, because she wants to—and why on Earth shouldn’t she?

Indeed, if this race weren’t a referendum on a 20-year incumbent, it would almost surely be Pressley’s to lose.  Beyond being a black woman in a minority-majority district, Pressley is the more polished public speaker of the two, as well as the more photogenic and the one more adept—for better or worse—at inspiring a rambunctious, loyal following among her would-be constituents.

Does this mean she’ll win the primary on September 4?  The polls say no—an August 2 survey had Capuano ahead, 48-35—but then again, the polls also said Joseph Crowley would beat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York on June 26, and look how well that went.

By any measure, Michael Capuano has been a faithful, passionate and effective representative of Massachusetts’ 7th district these past 20 years (I lived there for eight of them).  His defeat, should it occur, would be a major loss for the people of Boston.  Then again, a victory by Ayanna Pressley would almost surely be a major gain.

Charles in Charge

The governor of Massachusetts is a fellow named Charlie Baker.  If you don’t live in the commonwealth, you’ve probably never heard of him, yet he is consistently ranked as the most popular governor in the United States.  According to a recent WBUR survey, Baker is approved of by 67 percent of his constituents, putting him ahead not only of his 49 counterparts, but also every other high-ranking official in Massachusetts, including Senator Elizabeth Warren.  First elected in 2014, Baker is gunning for a second term on November 6, and, as with Warren, the question isn’t whether he’ll win, but by how much.

Oh, and did I mention he’s a Republican in one of the most liberal states in America?

In a country more ideologically polarized than it has been in decades, Baker is a true anomaly:  An elected member of one political party widely admired by members of another in his own backyard.  (Only 11 percent of Massachusetts voters are Republicans, while 34 percent are Democrats and 54 percent are independents.)

What’s his secret?  How can a Republican win statewide office in a Democratic stronghold and maintain uncommonly high support throughout his first four years on the job?

One answer—as posited recently in the Boston Globe—is that, on a multitude of issues, Baker has essentially governed as a Democrat.  Whether it’s raising taxes to fund paid leave benefits or signing legislation to preserve abortion and transgender rights, Baker could easily be mistaken for his liberal predecessor, Deval Patrick—a man who, despite defeating Baker in 2010, was never as admired in office as Baker is now.

While this Republican-in-name-only theory certainly holds water—indeed, by necessity, virtually all elected Republicans in Massachusetts would pass for Democrats in, say, Alabama or South Dakota—there is a deeper explanation for the governor’s unprecedented levels of goodwill—an explanation that, in turn, offers a glimmer a hope for the future of American politics:

Baker is exceptionally popular because he is exceptionally boring.

If the essence of Baker’s tenure could be distilled into a single X-factor, it would be his near-superhuman propensity to avoid controversy and conflict on virtually every issue that comes down the pike—to position himself as far removed from the heat of legislative friction as possible, thereby relieving himself of culpability for any unsightly political hiccups along the way.

To attempt to nail him down on a particular topic is the ultimate exercise in futility:   As far as he’s concerned, expressing a clear opinion about a matter still under debate is tantamount to obstruction of the democratic process, and he is loath to give anyone the satisfaction of divulging what he really thinks—if, indeed, he thinks anything at all.

In ordinary times, Baker’s aversion to the rough and tumble of political combat might be seen as a liability—a mark of cowardice, timidity and cynicism unbecoming of the chief executive of Massachusetts.

In our own time, however—an epoch dominated by a president who inserts himself into every facet of life, no matter how petty or inappropriate—there is something acutely refreshing about a governor with zero interest in making himself the center of attention, who errs (if a bit too much) on the side of caution and generally allows the legislature to do its work before offering his own two cents in the form of a signature or a veto.

In this way, Charlie Baker is everything Donald Trump is not:  He’s circumspect where Trump is impulsive, sober where Trump is hysterical, mature where Trump is childish, aloof where Trump is omnipresent, competent where Trump is bungling, compassionate where Trump is cruel.

Perhaps the most accurate word to summarize the governor’s first term—at least in the eyes of the voting public—is “inoffensive.”  While the Baker administration has hardly been free of scandal—the state police force is corrupt almost beyond measure and public transportation is an ongoing dumpster fire of inefficiency—Baker himself is so adept at dodging blame for any of the state’s shortcomings—expressing displeasure without assuming any particular responsibility—people have conditioned themselves to cut him an inordinate amount of slack, believing that if old Charlie can’t solve the problem, perhaps nobody else can, either.

After all, Baker ran in 2014 as the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, vowing to carry over the keen business instincts he honed from that job into the corner office on Beacon Hill—none more so than his seemingly genuine belief in valuing steadiness, compromise and the bottom line over division, partisanship and a sense that only one side of an argument can win.

In a nation driven mad by the insidious nonsense emanating daily from the Oval Office, even a place like Massachusetts could use a little dullness from its leadership every now and again.

Consent of the Governed, Part 2

This past Monday, the president nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court.  The balance of power being what it is, unless Kavanaugh is found with a dead girl or a live boy (in the immortal words of Edwin Edwards), he will be confirmed by the Senate later this year and the nation’s highest court will be as ideologically conservative as it has ever been in our lifetimes.

From the moment Justice Kennedy announced his retirement last month, liberals have been running around the airwaves with their hair on fire, screaming that this development constitutes the end of the world as we know it.  That the replacement of Kennedy’s so-called moderation with the true blue right-wingery of his successor will usher in a generation of irreversibly destructive decisions on every issue the left holds sacred, from abortion rights to gun control to civil liberties to campaign finance reform.

While Democrats’ concerns about Kavanaugh are undoubtedly well-founded—after all, he comes pre-packaged and pre-approved by the conservative judge factory known as the Federalist Society—they are also misleading and incomplete, insomuch as they overlook a much larger and more profound fact:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 years old.

Lament Kennedy’s departure if you wish, but the truth is that he was a fundamentally right-wing jurist whose flirtations with progressive causes, however crucial, were few and far between.  While he is rightly credited with preserving abortion rights in 1992 and effectuating same-sex marriage in 2015, he is equally responsible for the majority opinions in Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. FEC—the two worst Supreme Court decisions since Plessy v. Ferguson, according to most liberals.  During the most recent term, he voted with the court’s conservative wing in every high-profile case that was decided by a 5-4 vote.  Every.  Single.  One.

Long story short:  Replacing Kennedy with a rock-ribbed conservative will not be the end of the world as we know it.  But replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a rock-ribbed conservative?  That will be the end of the world as we know it.

Perhaps it is bad form to observe that most human beings do not live forever, but if the Democratic Party is truly freaked out about losing every major Supreme Court case for a generation or more, it must come to grips with the fact that its most beloved and indispensable justice—the Notorious RBG—is an octogenarian and two-time cancer patient who, for health reasons, might need to leave the bench before the next Democratic president takes office.  Ginsburg may intend to serve well beyond the current administration, but then again, so did Antonin Scalia on February 12, 2016.

If Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer plan to make themselves useful in the coming months, they ought to emphasize, in no certain terms, that a Republican-majority Senate in 2018-2019 guarantees the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh—already a foregone conclusion, so far as I can tell—and that the re-election of Donald Trump in 2020 makes it exceedingly likely the court will contain only three—or perhaps only two—liberals by the end of Trump’s second term.  (Ginsburg’s like-minded colleague Stephen Breyer turns 80 next month.)

Elections have consequences, and one of them is a Supreme Court shaped in the image of the sitting commander-in-chief—an arrangement that has been in place continuously since 1787.

The left can whine all it wants about Russian shenanigans and Mitch McConnell’s dirty tricks vis-à-vis Merrick Garland, but the fact remains that people voted for president in November 2016 in the full knowledge that a) the winning candidate would be selecting the successor to the late Antonin Scalia, and that b) there would almost surely be additional openings on the court before his or her presidential tenure was up.  Candidate Trump made this point repeatedly on the campaign trail.  In retrospect, Hillary Clinton did not make it nearly enough—a mistake her party’s candidate in 2020 would be well-advised to avoid.

Lame as it may sound, Neil Gorsuch is on the Supreme Court today because Donald Trump received the most electoral votes in 2016 and there weren’t enough Democrats in the Senate to stop him.  Brett Kavanaugh will be on the Supreme Court this fall for precisely the same reason.

If you find this situation intolerable, you have two choices:  You can vote for Democratic senators on November 6, 2018, and for a Democratic presidential candidate on November 3, 2020.  Or you can assume John Roberts will magically evolve into a liberal overnight and that Ruth Bader Ginsberg will live to 120.

Personally, I’d recommend Option No. 1, however inconvenient it might be.  You’d be surprised what a democracy can accomplish when its citizens behave democratically.

Consent of the Governed

If you’re wondering about the state of civics education in America today, look no further than a recent episode of Jeopardy!  In the first round of questions and answers, the $400 clue in a category about government read, “This document ends, ‘We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.’”

Not a single contestant rang in.  On America’s flagship TV game show, none of the three players could recognize the climactic clause of the most famous document in the history of the United States, the Declaration of Independence.

While I understand that Jeopardy! is considerably more difficult in front of a live studio audience than from the comfort of one’s couch, I’d like to think there are certain sentences that are embedded in the soul of every man, woman and child in America, and that “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” is chief among them.

However, as one survey after another has shown, this is increasingly not the case.  With each passing generation, we, the people, have become progressively less knowledgeable about the history of this country and our duties as citizens thereof.

Beyond our ignorance of the basic facts of America’s founding—like how, for example, we actually declared our independence from Britain on July 2, not July 4—we have demonstrated an alarming mixture of confusion about and indifference to our obligations as participants in a democratic republic, not the least of which is the act of informed voting.

Case in point:  Last week, the Democratic Party establishment was thrown for a loop by the surprising primary victory in New York’s 14th House district by political neophyte (and self-proclaimed democratic socialist) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  For all the talk about how the win by Ocasio-Cortez portends a definite leftward shift by her party’s base this fall—a base that is suddenly shot full of hope and adrenaline for the first time in two years—it was equally the case that a mere 13 percent of the district’s eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot in the first place.

In other words, the media spent a full week rethinking the narrative trajectory of the 2018 midterms based on a single race in which seven-eighths of the district did not  even participate.  Is this really our idea of representative democracy in action?

Regrettably, yes.

This is to take nothing away from Ocasio-Cortez, a spirited and savvy campaigner who inspired her future constituents in a way her opponent, Joe Crowley, did not.  In truth, such an abysmally low turnout rate is utterly typical for a congressional primary held in the middle of the summer—indeed, it would barely be aberrational for an election held in September.

As a rule, Americans do not vote more than once every four years, and tens of millions never vote at all.  While there are numerous (and often complex) reasons for this—deliberate, systematic suppression being the most insidious—the simple fact is that the majority of these non-participants just plain don’t care who represents them in the public square—be it the legislature, town hall, state house or White House—and cannot be bothered to do the research necessary to know which candidate to choose when the designated day arrives.

Hence the fact that virtually no one (including me) seemed to have heard of Ocasio-Cortez until the day after her win—much like how, according to one survey, only 37 percent of us can name our own congressperson without looking it up.  Or how, according to another survey, a mere one in four can identify all three branches of government, while 31 percent cannot name a single one.

I could go on.  Oh, how I could go on.

In a letter to a friend in 1816, Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”  Less famous—but perhaps more important—was the subsequent clause:

“The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents.  There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information.  Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.”

On this Fourth of July—the 192-year anniversary of Jefferson’s death—might I humbly suggest that, if we truly wish to pull our country back from the abyss, we direct our righteous indignation not at our leaders, but at ourselves.  That we reflect that there isn’t a single official on Capitol Hill or in the White House who wasn’t democratically elected—or appointed by someone who was—and that if we want a fresh set of representatives in 2019—and, with them, a fresh set of policies and ideas—we have it in our power (as we always have) to sweep them into office and to throw the bums out.

Election Day is November 6.  I’ll be there.  Will you?

Let Them Eat Tacos

I have no idea why the secretary of Homeland Security would dine out at a Mexican restaurant on the very day she defended the use of internment camps at the Mexican border.  I don’t know why the White House press secretary would show her face anywhere while acting as a mouthpiece for the most dishonest chief executive to ever sit in the Oval Office.

(If you missed it:  Last Tuesday, protesters yelled “shame!” at Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen inside MXDC Cocina Mexicana in Washington, D.C.  Three days later, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the 26-seat Red Hen in Lexington, Va., by the restaurant’s owner after several employees were made uncomfortable by Sanders’s presence.)

I’m not the least bit surprised that both of those public officials would be confronted by angry constituents while attempting to enjoy a relaxing night on the town.  Given the tenor of public discourse in 21st century America, the miracle is that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often—or more violently.

I understand instinctively why those concerned citizens feel the need to vent their outrage at these crooks and liars face-to-face when given the opportunity.

In the future, however, I wish they would resist the urge to do so.

Before we go any further, I should probably mention that I am about the least confrontational person on the East Coast.  I’m not sure I’ve ever started an argument with anyone in my adult life, and whenever someone attempts to start an argument with me, I make every effort to tactfully withdraw from the conversation and/or the room.  For all the self-righteous vitriol I’ve unfurled on this site over the years, the notion of telling an odious prominent figure, in person, what I really think of them fills me with bottomless anxiety and dread.

Admittedly, as a privileged, native-born white male, it is very easy for me to hang back on the sidelines and allow human events (however alarming) to run their course.  For someone like me, the actions of President Trump and his collaborators may be irritating—even horrifying—but they do not pose an existential threat to my way of life and probably never will.

I realize, in short, that spending one’s day avoiding conflict and social discomfort is a luxury that many of my fellow Americans cannot afford, and that sometimes verbally lashing out at those who oppress you can feel like a moral imperative—and possibly the only recourse that is available to you as an otherwise powerless individual.  If members of the Trump administration are deliberately and pointlessly making millions of Americans’ (and non-Americans’) lives difficult, the argument goes, why shouldn’t they get a taste of their own toxic medicine whenever they enter space occupied by the victims of their noxious acts?

The reason they shouldn’t—the reason all public servants should be left unmolested when they’re not on the clock—is because Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high,” and every liberal in America cheered.

By its own rhetoric, if the Democratic Party stands for anything in the age of Trump, it’s moral superiority.  Whether stated directly or implicitly, the message from Democratic leaders and supporters in recent years is that, all things being equal, Democrats are the party of sanity, empathy and love for one’s fellow human beings, while Republicans are (to coin a phrase) deplorable.

Without question, Donald Trump’s own rotten character was the primary basis of voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016—“Love Trumps Hate” was arguably Clinton’s most successful and resonant slogan—and most liberals still regard Trump’s penchant for childish name-calling and general thuggery as an intolerable moral stain that must be repudiated at the polls in 2018 and 2020—namely, by voting for as many Democratic candidates as possible.

The question is:  If the left truly believes in the Judeo-Christian ethos of treating others as you would have others treat you—and that Trump and company constitute a monstrous perversion of this policy—do they not have a responsibility to exhibit such mature, noble behavior themselves?  To lead by example?  To understand that darkness cannot drive out darkness—only light can do that?  To be the change they want to see in the world?

I say yes, and this includes allowing Nielsen and Sanders to eat their dinner in peace, whether or not they deserve it.  Because in the end, this isn’t about them.  It’s about us.  And it’s not a good look for the so-called party of inclusion to start telling certain people they’re not welcome and they don’t belong.