Opinion: Stranger shopping at Walmart

AP Photo/Alex Brandon / President Joe Biden, speaking at the Arcosa Wind Towers in Belen, New Mexico, has had some mean things said about him by Republicans.

As I was leaving my neighborhood Walmart yesterday morning, a total stranger stopped in front of me and announced, "The Biden family is living off millions while the rest of us are poor!" He just stood there waiting for my response. I smiled sweetly and said, "You mean, poor Trump — forced to live at that Mar-a-Lago place and living off all those contributions folks send him because he's such a nice man."

I continued my sweet smile and the gentleman, confused, finally walked away, and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was disturbing to have a perfect stranger approach me like this. I worry that given the wild ride of this 2024 presidential election, I need to prepare myself for a tidal wave of such strangeness.

A CNN reporter used the terms "draconian" and "vile" when describing the rhetoric that's rising from the right-wing media, including "despotic Biden," "the Biden regime," "weaponized DOJ" and "Gestapo federal law enforcement." The legal proceedings against Trump are called "political war crimes" and "assassination." Revenge is suggested by imprisoning Democratic politicians and their families.

Charlie Kirk has even called for the execution of President Biden. Who is Charlie Kirk? He's the founder and president of Turning Point USA, a fast-growing conservative youth activist nonprofit claiming to have more than 300 chapters on college campuses across the country. Its stated mission is "to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government." But rather than address these goals, the language pounded progressives as "evil." Are we surprised that Charlie Kirk's radio show is one of the top Apple podcasts?

Words do have impact, and this rhetoric reflects language that led up to the Jan. 6 insurrection. But is the reaction likely to be the same? Trump predicted "potential death & destruction" if he were criminally charged. But only a handful of supporters showed up outside the courthouse in Washington, D.C., where Trump was recently arraigned. The semi-crowd may have just been exhausted by all the indictments and uninspired to do more than beat the drums online.

They certainly weren't like the thousands of folks who showed up in New York City's Union Square, where a social media influencer promised a giveaway of computers, Play Station 5s, microphones, keyboards, webcams, gaming chairs, headphones and gift cards. Now that's what draws folks out these days, and it caused a riot. The New York City Police Department had to activate a "Level 4" response as people went wild. That's the NYPD's highest level of disaster response.

I'd like to think that the far right will no longer veer to the wild side like that. Large groups may not be inspired, given the exhausting tidal wave of indictments along with the ugly mess of Jan. 6 and the incarceration of hundreds of those rioters. Instead, there will be a steady stream of litigation, nasty language and vengeful comments toward Biden and his family. It will be a battle of words, accusations, and legal claims to distract and defend.

But I see warnings that we should not be complacent regarding the possibility of violence. While it may not come from insurrection crowds, it may well come from a lone actor. Impacted by the increasingly intense rhetoric, that actor would likely claim patriotic motivation. That person might walk into a neighborhood Walmart and rather than confront with words, act violently with weapons. When I think about that, I'm grateful for the gentleman at Walmart restricting himself to words. Yes, the encounter was strange. But I was unharmed, and that's what we should all work toward during this campaign.

Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at deborah@ diversityreport.com.