What happened to Paul Krugman's concern about town hall civility?

Back in 2009, the media was aghast at the “angry white males” who were showing up at Democratic town hall events and venting their rage (it was often described as rage) at their elected representatives. One progressive commentator who was particularly outraged by this behavior was the NY Times’ Paul Krugman.

“Angry protesters — some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting ‘This is America!’ — have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform,” he wrote in a column titled The Town Hall Mob. Krugman went on to criticize those who were downplaying what was happening, “Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there’s no comparison.” That really was Krugman’s message at the time, i.e. this mob behavior by the right is unprecedented and worrisome.

In the last couple months, the situation has reversed itself. Now it’s Republicans facing angry progressive “mobs” and some of them are getting out of control. For instance, CNN published video today showing Rep. Kevin Cramer being shouted at by a constituent at a town hall in North Dakota about tax cuts for the rich. When the man didn’t hear what he wanted he tried to shove some money in Cramer’s collar. He was escorted out by police.

When Rep. Rod Blum held a town hall in Marshalltown, Iowa he tried to engage with the crowd. At one point he said, “I’m doing this because I love my country. That’s the only reason.” Someone in the crowd called him a liar to which Blum replied in disbelief, “That’s a lie, that I love my country?”

Yesterday, Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey was heckled and jeered as he tried to discuss how the death of his daughter had impacted his views on health care. One person yelled “Shame on you!” to which MacArthur replied, “I will say shame on you right now, actually.” Another person in the crowd told the congressman to, “write a book” if he wanted to share something about his deceased child.

During the same town hall, a man who appeared to be shaking with anger read from a piece of paper a list of complaints including that there was something “mentally wrong” with President Trump. “Why don’t you see it congressman?!” he screamed into the microphone.


But none of that compares to what happened to Rep. Tom Garrett of Virginia. Garrett held his town hall event with heavy security because of the explicit death threats he received, some of them mentioning his family. From Politico:

“I don’t have any problem with anybody who reaches a different policy conclusion based on the information they amalgamate and process,” he said. “That dissent is American — praise God, we need that. That’s what made us who we are.”

“But when it’s, ‘I’m going to kill you this way. Then, ‘I’m going to kill your wife. This is what I’m going to do to your daughters’ … Then you get a circumstance where there’s an awful lot of security.”

Surely Paul Krugman is outraged and concerned about the state of public discourse, like he was back in 2009. It turns out, not so much. In a recent column, Krugman wrote, “The first few weeks of the Trump administration have been marked by huge protests, furious crowds at congressional town halls, customer boycotts of businesses seen as Trump allies.” He continued, “Outrage at what’s happening to America isn’t just justified, it’s essential.” In other words, he now supports the “furious crowds” behaving just like the ones he once denounced. You get the impression that civility was never really his main concern.