After Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) implored Americans of good conscience to publicly confront White House officials over their policies, leading Democrats joined with Republicans to denounce Waters’ comments as uncivil.
It was one of the few acts of bipartisanship that Democrats have engaged in since the advent of the Trump administration, and it was by far the most harmful. Not only because Waters, who lived through the civil rights movement, understands that oppressors do not buckle to civility. It was harmful because Waters’ fellow Democrats — including leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer — wrongly believe that tyranny can be combated with polite discourse.
That naïve worldview is exactly why Democrats find themselves out of power. And if the only thing they can find to criticize is the one Democrat who wants to stand and fight an administration that seeks to disenfranchise, discriminate, and disrespect every nonwhite, non-Christian person who steps on American soil, Democrats do not deserve to retake Congress in the midterm elections.
This latest example of Democratic futility began with the Trump administration’s policy of separating families that illegally crossed the Southern border. After 2,300 migrant children were locked in government-funded detention facilities, Maxine Waters spoke out.
“Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up,” Waters said during videotaped remarks at a Los Angeles rally. “And 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. We’ve got to get the children connected to their parents.
“We don’t know what damage has been done to these children,” she added. “All that we know is they’re in cages. They’re in prisons. They’re in jails. I don’t care what they call it, that’s where they are, and Mr. President, we will see you every day, every hour of the day, everywhere that we are, to let you know you cannot get away with this.”
In truth, Trump officials already were being confronted in public places. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who made false statements in defense of the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, was heckled at a Mexican restaurant. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who makes false statements regularly, was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant after staffers recognized her and called the owner.
But those facts didn’t stop Donald Trump from mischaracterizing Waters’ comments and issuing a veiled threat of his own. “Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has become, together with Nancy Pelosi, the Face of the Democrat Party,” Trump tweeted. “She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for Max!”
Of course, Waters said nothing of the kind. Still, her fellow Democrats jumped into the fray, helping Republicans to frame her remarks as harmful.
House Minority Leader Pelosi called Waters’ comments “unacceptable” before tweeting that “we must strive to make America beautiful again. Trump’s daily lack of civility has provoked responses that are predictable but unacceptable. As we go forward, we must conduct elections in a way that achieves unity from sea to shining sea.”
Then there was Senate Minority Leader Schumer, who took to the Senate floor to denounce Waters. “We all have to remember to treat our fellow Americans, all of our fellow Americans, with the kind of civility and respect we expect will be afforded to us,” he said. “No one should call for the harassment of political opponents. That’s not right. That’s not American.”
Except harassing political opponents is profoundly American. Ask black survivors of the civil rights movement who faced the political effort to deny them the vote. Ask Native Americans about the political machinations that landed them on reservations. Ask those who look at the present political climate and see a repeat of the past.
We live in a time when discriminatory policies come out of the White House and are seemingly rubber-stamped by the Supreme Court.
When America’s highest court upholds a ban on travelers from mostly Muslim countries, and supports what lower courts have called racist gerrymandering in Texas, and affirms voter suppression through the purging of voter rolls in Ohio, dissent cannot be polite, and opposition must not be muted.
The officials in the Trump administration work for us. And if they are not working in our best interests, we must confront them. We must rebuke them. We must correct them.
If Waters’ fellow Democrats aren’t willing to do that, they should step aside and let Waters lead.