There’s a lot more public nastiness since the election. For example, there’s the passenger who, as a Delta Air Lines flight was boarding, starting shouting offensive stuff like “Donald Trump, baby! We got some Hillary bitches on here?” Delta has banned him for life. Is this the right way to deal with real-life trolls?
After questioning the customer, our team members made the best decision they could given the information they had and allowed him to remain on the flight. However, if our colleagues had witnessed firsthand what was shown in the video, there is no question they would have removed him from the aircraft. He will never again be allowed on a Delta plane.
. . . Delta has apologized to the customers onboard that flight. We are also refunding those customers the cost of their tickets.
I also want to make sure all of you know we have your backs. The heightened tension in our society means that now more than ever we must require civility on our planes and in our facilities. We must stay true to Delta’s core values and treat one another with dignity and respect. We also must remain committed more than ever to the safety of our customers and our crew members. We will not tolerate anything less.
The beastliness of our times
The 2016 presidential election was the nastiest U.S. election in my lifetime. Trump talked constantly about “crooked Hillary,” while Clinton said half of Trump’s supporters were a “basket of deplorables.” It’s no exaggeration to say that the electorate decided this election on hate — more people in swing states hated the idea of Hillary Clinton than hated the idea of Donald Trump. People are still angry.
The worst of Trump’s supporters — and it only takes a few — have been responsible for a few well-publicized acts of publicized hatred, stupidity, and trollery. In addition to the Delta asshole, there’s the Trump voter who berated a Starbucks barista and the shopper who went on a racist rant in a Michael’s store. It’s not just shouting. Hate crimes against muslims are up. Civility is unraveling. We, as a society, need to stop it.
Dealing with schmucks
The video of the Delta incident is only 43 seconds long. The behavior is terrible. But I can see how the flight attendants may not have seen this while it was happening, or realized everything that the guy was saying. They’re not omniscient.
We know how to deal with trolls on the Internet: ignore them, delete their comments, or out them. (I’ve had my share.)
But real-life trolls are more dangerous. I call them schmucks — a mildly offensive yiddish term for a jerk. And now that there are more of them, the 99% of us that are not schmucks need a way to deal with them. Here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t put the onus on retail staff and authority figures. It’s tough enough to work behind a counter. If you’re black, speak with an accent, or wear a headscarf, you’ve probably been a target. The rest of us — management, fellow shoppers, regular people — ought to have your back. It’s not the police’s problem or the manager’s problem to be everywhere and stop everything. It’s our society, and it’s our problem to fix now.
- Management should put policies in place to deal with hate in the workplace. Yesterday, I wrote about Nordstrom’s memo about carrying Ivanka Trump merchandise, which included a vague reference to backing up sales staff in a tense time. Every retail establishment or service company needs a stronger policy than this. Such a policy should of course prohibit racist or sexist language from colleagues — and terminate any who use it. But it should also enable sales people to point to the policy and use it to eject or ban customers who behave in a threatening or intolerant way. The customer is not always right, if the customer is on a racist rant. Delta’s decision to ban its shouting passenger seems harsh, but it sends a clear message to the flight attendants that they have the right and duty to shut down behavior like this.
- We, as customers, should support each other and the workers that serve us. A popular cartoon about dealing with Islamophobia is a good guide. It recommends engaging victims in conversation, which frustrates attacker without creating confrontation. Our instinct as bystanders is to turn away. But if we, as a group, collect around those being attacked verbally, it makes it a lot harder for the schmucks to accomplish their goals. Assuming there are no firearms involved, grab a fellow customer and go stand near the victim and talk to them. I’m not recommending conflict — I’m recommending de-escalation. Focus on helping the victim, rather than confronting the attacker.
- Deploy humor. I tend to have a quick wit — I hope I could apply it in a situation like this. “That’s a hell of a speech — are you hoping to get into politics?” “Whoah, I had no idea that Donald Trump had come out in favor of yelling at salespeople.” “Gee, the espresso here must be extra strong if it gets people this excited.” (Lame, I know, but the point is to defuse the situation, not to get people rolling around laughing.) Maybe I’d just end up punched out or on the floor. But I do know that unless you’re six-foot five and 250 pounds, you don’t want to engage a bully on their own terms.
You can blame the media for inflaming our basest instincts. You can certainly blame Trump, who has a responsibility to be clearer about the need to end racist and threatening behavior from some of his followers. And of course, you can blame the individuals who are behaving like schmucks. But as comfortable and satisfying as it is to assign blame, we have to acknowledge that we got here as a nation, and now we have to deal with it. If we all take a little more responsibility, then perhaps people won’t feel bold enough to behave like schmucks in public places.