On Wednesday night, protesters identified with a fringe group gathered outside the home of Fox News host Tucker Carlson, chanting, “Racist scumbag, leave town.”
This happened amid an election in which exit polls show three out of four Americans think the country is becoming more divided.
Look, I believe in protests. Sometimes that’s the only way the marginalized can get their voices heard by those in power. To be clear, in my career as a community organizer, I organized many confrontational protests. I understand where the anger comes from — I feel it myself.
And yet, I’m wrestling with a feeling of deep discomfort as I watch the videos from outside Tucker Carlson’s D.C. home. CNN reported that “Smash Racism D.C., which calls itself an ‘anti-fascist,’ or Antifa, group, claimed responsibility for the protest on social media.”
“In videos uploaded to Twitter by the group on Wednesday, participants were heard saying ‘Tucker Carlson, we will fight! We know where you sleep at night!,’ ” CNN reported
This goes beyond protesting to harassing and threatening.
Indeed, Antifa is an extreme, violent fringe movement on the left that does far, far more harm in every sense than good and whose bad behavior has been repeatedly used to smear the entire progressive left.
And happening in this moment, this protest falls into a general decline in the civility and respect we’re showing one another on other sides of the political aisle.
Now I’ll say here what I’ve said before: interpersonal niceness isn’t the same thing as dignity, equality and respect in policies and systems, and I would never privilege the former over the latter.
I’ve always had a good relationship with Tucker Carlson and find him to be one of the more thoughtful people on the right. Also, whenever I think of him, I think about this video that Buzzfeed made about how whenever liberals are talking, Tucker makes a face like they’re eating mayonnaise straight out of a jar. This cracks me up. And when I told Tucker about it a few weeks ago, he said he hadn’t seen it but the idea cracked him up, too.
Still, I want to be clear that I find many of the policies and ideas that Tucker Carlson appears to support deeply cruel and hateful, and the way he expresses those beliefs – and treats his opponents on air – is often cruel as well.
But here’s the thing:
I don’t treat other people with dignity and respect and equality because they deserve it or even because they earn it. I treat other people with dignity and respect and equality because I believe that all people deserve dignity and respect and equality. No matter who they are, no matter what they believe, and importantly, no matter how they treat me. Because those are my values. That’s why I’m a progressive.
And I’m not going to let any amount of hate and nastiness on the right define my values or drag me down. “When they go low, we go high” isn’t just a bumper sticker or a tactical choice. It’s a moral conviction. I will not let the hate and cruelty of others make me hateful and cruel.
Again, I’ve been all over the map on this myself and certainly see the reasons for people feeling not only righteously angry but also expressing hate over what Trump and his allies are doing, and wanting to fight back. And I am wary of false equivalences.
On issues from pollution to administration policies to immigration, the malign forces in our country find comfort and cover, to say the least, on Fox news. Politicians who support the forced separation of immigrant families at the border, for example – small children literally being ripped out of their parents’ arms – seem hypocritical to complain about being bothered, say, at dinner in a restaurant. I get it, and I get the desire to protest in a way that feels commensurate with this new era of injustice.
But at the same time, I’m going to try to be the change I want to see in the world – which includes treating other people, leaders on the right and especially voters and followers on the right – with the respect, equality and radical kindness that I want them to show, too. And just like I don’t think their behavior should be the justification for my bad behavior, I don’t want my behavior to be the excuse anyone cites for being even worse.