These are all serious questions — not gotchas – they’re questions I don’t know the answers to and wish I did. And of course knowing the answers from any one person wouldn’t help very much: what I really need is access to the Zeitgeist on these points. But that knowledge isn’t available. Still, I can’t stop wondering. So here goes:

If you’re, let’s say, Alexis Grenell and you believe that women who supported the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh are “gender traitors” who have made a “blood pact with white men,” what do you do if you find yourself sitting at dinner with such a woman? Say six of you are eating out somewhere and one woman you hadn’t previously met says that she would have voted to confirm Kavanaugh. Do you get up and leave? Try to persuade her that she’s wrong? Throw water in her face? Sit and steam?

What if you don’t throw water in her face but another woman at the table does? Are you okay with that?

If you could get her dismissed from her job, would you consider doing that?

What if the person who supports Kavanaugh is an old friend? Does that, for you, end the friendship?

Now, a question for people who support confronting and challenging politicians at restaurants and other public places. What is your goal? Is it simply punitive, or do you believe that by doing that kind of thing you can change a politician’s mind? (NB: If you’re the sort of person who shows up at a pizza parlor with a gun because of something you read online, you need not answer this question.)

How do you think you would respond if you were subject to the same protests? Would you be intimidated into voting the way the protestors want you to vote? Would you become more sympathetic to their cause?

Presumably you know that what one side does the other will soon copy. So if this escalates to the point where very few politicians of either major party are able to eat at restaurants, what precisely will we, as a nation and a society, have gained?

If you believe that, for example, Brendan Eich could not serve as the CEO of Mozilla because he opposed the legalization of gay marriage, do you think it would be okay for him to have some other, lesser job at Mozilla? If not, what sort of job do you think it would be acceptable for Eich to have?

Obviously the intensity of feeling on the left right now stems from the conviction that a Trump presidency + a long-term conservative majority on the Supreme Court = something close to an extinction event for American democracy — just as many on the right two years ago believed that the prospect of a Clinton presidency was so horrifying that America was faced with the “Flight 93 Election.” But most of these questions are addressed to the left because that’s where most of the anger is right now. (And if you think I’m soft on the right, use the search box on the left side of this page and enter the word “Trump.”)

Presumably not all positions held by the party you oppose are equally reprehensible; not all prompt your activist anger. For example, I doubt that very many people would confront a politician at a restaurant because he or she supports President Trump’s new tariffs, even if they think those tariffs are a very bad idea. So what are the issues that, if someone gets them wrong, place that person beyond the pale, mark him or her as someone you can’t have table fellowship with, as someone who can’t be allowed to live unconfronted? Kavanaugh, yes, but what else?

  • Supporting Trump’s immigration policies?
  • Opposing abortion on demand?
  • Opposing abortion before viability?
  • Believing that the killer of Laquan McDonald should have been acquitted?
  • Supporting legislation like the North Carolina bathroom bill?

That is, what are the issues on which you can agree to disagree with someone — or at least to remain on speaking terms with that person, even if you keep arguing — and what issues, by contrast, demand a break of relationship?

Almost all of these questions center on a particular concern of mine. There’s no doubt that we live in a rhetorically heated time — the most heated moment of my lifetime, I believe (though I can’t be sure about that). But what actions does our verbal anger lead to? If we speak about one another in the extreme ways we do today, how will we treat one another?