Maxine Waters does not speak for Democrats or liberals
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) recently told her supporters to hound President Trump’s Cabinet members wherever they find them: “They’re not going to be able to go to a restaurant, they’re not going to be able to stop at a gas station, they’re not going to be able to shop at a department store. The people are going to turn on them, they’re going to protest, they’re going to absolutely harass them.”
Waters does not speak for all Democrats or liberals. Nor do those who threw Sarah Huckabee Sanders out of the Red Hen restaurant. Neither do those who have harassed other members of the Trump administration. But these rude extremists are a symptom of the times. The divisions have gotten so bad that many on both sides refuse to speak or listen to those on the other side. Either you are for Trump or against him, and that is all some people need to know to make judgments about you.
I know this because I have experienced this firsthand on Martha’s Vineyard. I am not a Trump supporter nor am I member of the Trump administration. I have strongly and publicly opposed his immigration policies, ranging from the travel ban that was upheld by the Supreme Court to the zero-tolerance policy that led to the separation of parents and children at the border. I oppose other Republican policies as well. I voted for, and contributed handsomely, to Hillary Clinton.
But I have defended Trump’s civil liberties, along with those of all Americans, just as I would have defended Hillary Clinton’s civil liberties had she been elected and subjected to efforts of impeachment tor prosecution. My book, “The Case Against Impeaching Trump,” could just as easily have been the case against impeaching Hillary Clinton. I am opposed to appointing a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and I was against it for Trump. I am a liberal Democrat in politics, but a neutral civil libertarian when it comes to the Constitution.
But that is not good enough for some of my old friends on Martha’s Vineyard. For them, it is enough that what I have said about the Constitution might help Trump. So they are shunning me and trying to ban me from their social life on Martha’s Vineyard. One of them, an academic at a distinguished university, has told people that he would not attend any dinner or party to which I was invited. He and others have demanded “trigger warnings” so that they can be assured of having “safe spaces” in which they will not encounter me or my ideas. Others have said they will discontinue contributions to organizations that sponsor my talks.
This is all familiar to me, since I lived through McCarthyism in the 1950s, when lawyers who represented alleged communists on civil libertarian grounds were shunned. Some of these lawyers and victims of McCarthyism lived on Martha’s Vineyard. I never thought I would see McCarthyism come to Martha’s Vineyard, but I have. I wonder if the professor who refuses to listen to anything I have to say also treats his students similarly. Would he listen to a student who actively supported Trump? What about one who simply supported his civil liberties?
These childish efforts to shun me because I refused to change my position on civil liberties that I have kept for half a century discourages vibrant debate and may dissuade other civil libertarians from applying their neutral principles to a president of whom they disapprove. But one good thing is that being shunned by some “old friends” on Martha’s Vineyard has taught me who my real friends are and who my fairweather friends were. From a personal point of view, I could not care less about being shunned by people whose views regarding dialogue I do not respect.
But this is not about me, nor is it about Sarah Huckabee Sanders, or Stephen Miller, or Betsy DeVos. This is about the United States of America. It is about our growing intolerance toward opposing views. President Trump certainly bears some of the responsibility for this divisiveness, but Maxine Waters and those who advocate harassing political opponents share much of the responsibility as well. They are both the symptom and the cause of the divisiveness in this country.
I will not change my views as a result of these attempts to ostracize me, but there are some who may remain silent for fear of being shunned. Silence is not my style. Cowardice is not my philosophy. I intend to speak up when I disagree with Republicans, and I intend to speak up when I disagree with Democrats. Right now I am speaking up in disagreement with Maxine Waters. She — like those who shun me on Martha’s Vineyard — is part of the problem rather than the solution.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard Law School.