In a tweet yesterday, “conservative” Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin took Donald Trump supporters to task for berating journalists at a recent rally. The dust-up was triggered by a tweet from CNN’s Jim Acosta with video of rally attendees yelling at him and giving him the middle finger salute. Coming to the defense of decency, Rubin had this to say:
stop infantilizing Trump supporters, treating them as hapless victims. Whatever one’s economic hardships, threatening, unhinged conduct and crude insults shouldn’t be excused. Trump cultists claim to be disrespected; they are only ones showing disrespect https://t.co/gcIrrMuNeU
— Jennifer 'pro-voting' Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) August 1, 2018
I share her concern about the state of discourse on our country and find little noble in the cantankerous caterwaul Trump’s supporters launched in the news media’s direction. But ironically, it seems that Rubin herself is perfectly fine with such public shaming, so long as it is directed at conservatives. Let me give some examples of many available in her record since Trump’s ascendance.
In a Washington Post column in June, after White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had been kicked out of a restaurant and several other Trump officials had been screamed at and hounded out of restaurants and movies, Rubin took a far more measured approach. Here’s what she had to say about the public shaming of Trump officials:
If, however, you think the child-separation policy is in a different class — a human rights crime, an inhumane policy for which the public was primed by efforts to dehumanize a group of people (‘animals,’ ‘infest’ etc.) — then it is both natural and appropriate for decent human beings to shame and shun the practitioners of such a policy.
This exception to the rule of polite social action should be used sparingly (if for no other reason than we will never get through a restaurant meal without someone hollering at someone else). If a lawmaker, for example, who favors a harsh, ill-conceived immigration bill walks into a restaurant, I would not recommend raising a rumpus (though I would not invite that person to my home).
Listen, I get it. The notion of shunning or excluding or heckling can devolve into philosophical hair-splitting as to whether someone has engaged in normal public service or whether they’ve strayed outside the bounds of decent behavior. Each to his own method of expressing disdain and fury, I suppose.
“Each to his own method of expressing disdain and fury” — unless they are Trump supporters, clearly. For good or ill, many Trump supporters believe the news media has maintained a constant effort to delegitimize the duly elected president of the United States, a man these people voted for and believe in. Rubin’s selective outrage regarding regular people expressing theirs is telling. Hound a Trump appointee out of a restaurant? You do you. Yell at Jim Acosta? Well, that’s a whole other matter.
What is most revealing in all of this is that Rubin appears to be completely unaware of the double standard she is employing. When progressives verbally assault conservatives, or, for that matter, riot in the streets, it qualifies as justified outrage. When conservatives give the finger to reporters, something is badly broken in our society. Give us a break. The thing about rules is that they should apply to everyone.
The president is remiss in riling his supporters up against the news media. It’s dangerous and wrong, and I have no problem saying that. I also have no problem saying that the Trump supporters at the rally were acting shamefully and I imagine they would not want their children to imitate that behavior. But Rubin lost all credibility regarding this issue when she basically applauded left-wing bullies. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Rubin is guilty of a classic mistake. She deems politeness, decorum, and decency as social goods only insofar as they guard her own ideas and beliefs. This attitude completely undermines politeness, decorum, and decency, which exist as a priori concepts to deal with situations in which people disagree. People who all (suddenly) think Barack Obama was awesome and Trump is Hitler have no reason to yell at each other. Only people who disagree do.
Trump supporters and conservatives in general will not accept a world in which they may be berated, insulted, and driven from public places while progressive news celebrities must be shown dignity and respect. That’s not how it works. Now, I’m on team dignity and respect. I’d like all of us to treat all of everyone else in such a manner. But that isn’t what’s happening.
If progressives are free to scream and yell at Trump officials or supporters with the blessing of the so-called conservative at the Washington Post, then reporters at Trump rallies are fair game too. I’m not placing blame on one side or the other, and the president’s rhetoric is not helpful, but neither is Rubin’s. She wants public shaming, she got it. Now she’s not happy about it when the targets are her own team. Perhaps, then, it’s time for her to reconsider her thoughts about whether public shaming is appropriate for those on the opposite team.