After Fox Nation’s Tomi Lahren told Mediaite about an incident where a man called her “Nazi Barbie” over the weekend, the phrase trended on Twitter as self-appointed commentators lobbed more insults at Lahren Wednesday morning.
Bouts of social media name-calling from both sides of the aisle deserve far less attention than they get, so I won’t amplify such pettiness by discussing the cheap criticisms of Lahren. Neither is my point to defend her political positions or the way she presents them. “Nazi Barbie” is an uncreative insult, and Twitter name-calling is a non-story.
But Lahren’s original interview actually hinted at an important observation, that’s worth much more attention than trending Twitter potshots. Her description of random, meanspirited actions by bystanders she’d never previously met reflects the dangerous social implications of making politics both generalized and personal.
“Just this past weekend I had two incidents,” Lahren told Fox News Radio’s Jimmy Failla. “I had a girl from the sixth floor of an apartment complex try to throw eggs at me … Yesterday, I had a grown man with a cigarette in hand and a mask on his face telling me once again that I’m ‘Nazi Barbie’ and telling me that I dance on the graves of Native Americans.”
“It used to be, for me, just people attacking me on social media, now they’re … getting more confrontational because they believe they have this free pass,” Lahren continued. “And I’m concerned it’s only going to get worse, for all of us.”
The story here is not whether Lahren deserves the criticism she gets. She’s a public figure who has dished out some insults herself, like calling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a “Democratic Dimwit Darling.” The real story is about the threatened loss of Americans’ ability to greet each other kindly on the street corner.
I was raised to smile politely at people — or at the very least, not be rude to them. I don’t take out political vendettas on strangers, even if they have a bumper sticker or T-shirt logo with which I happen to disagree.
But if we allow politics to inhabit every sphere of our lives, generalize about our political opponents, and take political divisions personally, then the person you meet in line for your morning coffee becomes a representative of the evil Other Side. Instead of someone with whom you share a morning commute and a love of iced Americanos, he stands for everything you abhor. And you’re going to treat him differently as a result.
Two summers ago, I was walking through the Washington D.C. metro with a friend, on our way back from spending the morning volunteering to pull weeds in President’s Park. As we entered the Farragut West station, a random passerby started to vehemently cuss us out. My friend turned to me, completely confused about what we could have done to aggravate her. I looked up and we realized: my friend was wearing a red baseball cap with the presidential seal on it (not a MAGA hat but a similar style).
It saddens me that she thought our political differences entitled her to personally denigrate someone of whom she had no prior or personal knowledge. It’s the same attitude that led someone to vandalize a stranger’s car in 2016 just because it had a Trump sticker. It’s also the attitude that led Black Lives Matter protesters to harass random diners at D.C. restaurants just because they were white and not raising their fists.
1) In a scene that played out several times Monday, a Black Lives Matter protest that began in Columbia Heights confronted White diners outside D.C. restaurants, chanting “White silence is violence!” and demanding White diners show their solidarity. #DCProtests pic.twitter.com/fJbPM76vb0
— Fredrick Kunkle WaPo (@KunkleFredrick) August 25, 2020
It’s not all one-sided, either. Vandals sprayed graffiti on Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home in January, as well as the home of Republican (and then-Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell. These incidents hardly scratch the surface of the acts of politically motivated nastiness that have become too common.
I hope these interactions don’t represent how most Americans have come to see each other, and I don’t think they do. But they become more frequent as our focus shifts from seeing the members of our communities as individuals with souls in common, to instead seeing mindless pawns in a great political war. When Twitter becomes real life, real life becomes much nastier.
One of the things I’ve always loved about America is its friendliness. Striking up a conversation with the person next to you in line or holding the door for the lady behind you pushing a stroller is common courtesy, and such pleasant interactions with strangers can make your day if you let them. When either side lets politics ruin those moments, we all lose.
It’s also worth noting that the public figure status of people like Lahren doesn’t make it right to berate them in the street. While public and political figures are more subject to criticism, they are still deserve basic human decency.
If I ran into President Biden on Main Street tomorrow, I wouldn’t throw eggs at him or call him names. As a reporter, I might respectfully ask him what he’s doing about the border crisis or Iran. But I’d call him “Mr. President” and smile at him because he’s a human being.
If we truly think polarizing politics is a problem, we’d do well to stop viewing every person we meet through a political lens. Who cares if the barista who makes your favorite coffee voted for a different person?
A cohesive society requires functioning communities. Friendly decency toward strangers is a keystone of that. If we can’t interact courteously with people who hold differing political opinions, cheap name-calling on Twitter is going to invade a lot more of our public discourse.