Some commentators have stated that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, pictured, deserved to be kicked out of a restaurant because she works for President Donald Trump.
The 20th century political philosopher Hannah Arendt said that the voting booth is too narrow a space for politics in either the sense that the Greeks, or the American founders, conceived of it.
The classic concept of politics, at least as Arendt re-imagined it, posited the public life as a way of life — a life of learning, debate, and service.
Several of the key 18th century political thinkers believed in “public happiness.” There could be no greater fulfillment in life, no higher self-actualization to use a modern concept, than to play the sort of role our founders played. Madison was the father of the Constitution. Adams was a first-rate political philosopher. Jefferson was proudest not only of the Declaration but the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and founding the University of Virginia.
Think of how small our notion of politics has become.
And if citizenship has already shrunk to the size of a voting booth, and then an iPad, and then a tweet, how much smaller is the space for citizenship, for public nobility, when it is reduced to a negation?
Politics is not anger.
It is not an epithet. It is not a chant.
It is not shunning. It is not smug judgment.
It has to be bigger than that.
And it has to have a healthier psychological ground.
For there is a second matter to consider. If we accept anger as politics and accept that this can be all there is to politics, we must also accept the result — unending rancor, which feeds permanent division and alienation.
For just as dialogue creates empathy and friendship, unremitting anger, untransformed anger, anger closed in on itself, has nowhere to go but exclusion. Inevitably, it creates enemies. What do you wish upon an enemy? What will you do to him if you can?
Hence when Jennifer Rubin, of the Washington Post, said: “Sarah Huckabee has no right to live a life of no fuss, no muss, after lying to the press, after inciting against the press. These people should be made uncomfortable, and I think that is a life sentence, frankly …” she locked herself and her listeners into a suffocating, small politics — a politics of endless retribution. And a polity that can never heal itself.
To be fair, Ms. Rubin said she prefers that a million people go to Alaska or Maine to protest President Donald Trump and his pick for the Supreme Court. That too, is a negation, not a conversation, or a construction — a lot of energy to say “hell no; we resist.” But at least it is an active one.
It is not nearly as limiting and toxic as a view of politics in which one group of people asserts the right to harass other people, during their private time, for the rest of their lives: Sure, that’s cool. Sarah Sanders should never be comfortable in public again.
What makes anyone think he, she, or their group, has the right to impose that punishment on a fellow citizen?
Well because they believe they are right, and they are righteously angry — angry in the name of truth.
That’s a dangerous justification, because it can justify almost anything.
Far better, if we must live with such small politics, to abide in polymath Stephen Fry’s self-described squishy liberalism — lacking in all self-assurance, but therefore, also, all self-righteousness.
We are an angry country these days. And the most frighteningly angry people are the ones who are certain.
This brings us to the video, that has gone viral, of the angry restaurant patron who ripped a red MAGA hat off a teenage boy and threw a cold drink in his face, cursing as he did so. Is that young man to be subject to a life sentence also?
What happens when the drink becomes a hot one?
There is a slippery slope here, clearly — from the asserted right to harass a person in a restaurant to the asserted right to burn a cross on his lawn. From the asserted right to email an editorial writer and say: If you were on fire, I would not throw any kind of water on you. (It was put more crudely). To the “right” to throw a fire bomb or light the first match.
It’s the left’s turn to show us the face of intolerance. Be assured the right’s will come again.
Can we stop on the slippery slope? Of course. Not all anger leads to violence, but nothing but anger feeds the wellspring of contempt and hate, and from that wellspring violence certainly comes.
Make no mistake, the ripped hat and thrown Coke was an assault. And what makes it so dangerous is that it is only the first assault. What makes it insidious is its justification: We are right, we know best, we are fit to judge and to punish.
Jennifer Rubin feels fit to deliver a sentence to Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The writer of that email delivered a metaphorical sentence to the subject of his ire. His heading was “fascist.” Fascist, indeed.