How Long Before Harassment of Trump Officials Gets Out of Control? | Opinion

American politics is a wonder for the world to behold. Our free speech traditions produce all kinds of interesting folderol, over the top in its theatrics and yet usually deeply meaningful to those participating in it.

It was on display Monday, in front of the United States Supreme Court building, appearing seemingly by magic moments after President Donald Trump announced he'd chosen D.C. Appellate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. The right was there. And the left, each itching to get their point across. They had signs, including some urging opposition to nominees not picked, pre-printed just in case. They chanted and opined for the cameras and had a raucous time as those in the crowd—which was a lot smaller than it looked on TV—tried to out-shout each other.

It was messy and it was noisy and it was wonderful. It's the way things in America are sometimes supposed to be when the stakes are high. But this kind of expression also has a dark side, one that some politicians and prominent figures on the left are irresponsibly stoking of late as part of their campaign of massive resistance to President Trump.

Go back to the Obama years or even to the Clinton presidency and you won't be able to find many or even any examples of political activists chasing down presidential appointees in shopping malls, harassing them at their homes, confronting them in restaurants, or taking the opportunity to "dox" folks by giving out phone numbers and addresses of people with whom they disagreed. The opposition to these administrations was fierce but largely remained, at a personal level, civil.

You cannot say the same for the Trumpist resistors. They're following the exhortations of California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who told attendees at a Los Angeles rally "If you see anybody from (Trump's) cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd" and then "push back on them." Then, sounding more like former Alabama Gov. George Wallace in the schoolhouse door than a current serving member of Congress in the 21st century, instructed progressives who'd later be watching her inflammatory remarks on television, "You tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere."

She got what she wanted. They followed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell out of a Louisville restaurant, shouting names and slogans at him. And showed up at his house while his wife, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, proving herself to be the toughest member of the president's cabinet, stood outside yelling back at them to "leave my husband alone."

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Congresswoman Maxine Waters during a national day of action called "Keep Families Together" to protest the Trump administration's "Zero Tolerance" policy in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 30, 2018. REUTERS/Monica Almeida

They've hounded Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen out of a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C., challenged White House counselor Kellyanne Conway in a grocery aisle, and followed Trump aide Stephen Miller out into the street for the purpose of making sure he saw a hand gesture directed at him indicative of contempt.

None of this amuses. It's over the line and not at all how decent people behave. The worst the Republicans probably ever did was to gather outside the Naval Observatory grounds in the late fall of 2000 to urge then-Vice President Al Gore to "Get out of Cheney's house!" These assaults from anti-Trumpists are by comparison humorless and potentially dangerous, not to mention inexcusable even if, as those of Waters' political stripe claim, they are only mimicking the style of the current president.

It's not going to be long before this gets out of control and someone gets hurt. It's up to responsible liberals like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow to put a stop to it all before it happens. They need to call out this tactic as harassment and publicly shame those who use it before someone raises things up a notch or two as a sign of their personal devotion to the cause. Whatever party leaders have said thus far, and it hasn't been much, isn't working.

We've seen political violence in this country, fortunately barely and briefly. The last time though was not all that many months ago, on an Alexandria, Virginia baseball field just across the river from the U.S. Capitol. Mercifully no one died there apart from the shooter, but several people were badly, lastingly injured. We don't need that again. If the harassment of Trump administration officials and Republican members of Congress, egged on by progressive leaders, doesn't stop, for our sins we just might get it.

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff is has written extensively about politics, culture, and the media for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International, and various other publications. He can be reached by email at Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​​​