Talk of the Town

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Is the current political climate making us crazy?


It seems the friendly skies aren't so friendly anymore.

On Monday, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines slapped a passenger with a lifetime ban. The reason? The self-proclaimed supporter of president-elect Donald Trump was caught on camera lobbing profanity-laced insults at his fellow passengers.

During the Nov. 22 flight from Atlanta to Allentown, Pennsylvania, the flight crew questioned the unidentified man and allowed him to remain on board. Naturally, someone recorded his rant and posted it on social media. The outcry led to an apology from Delta for not removing the passenger, a promise to train flight crews on how to manage these incidents in the future and in the end, one less passenger on Delta flights.

It wasn't the first politically tinged public rant and it won't be the last, but while these kinds of outbursts are expected at political rallies or protests where emotions are running high and confrontation is part of the process, what should we make of it when it creeps into our daily lives?

Airplanes, retail outlets and roadways around the nation have become places where minding your own business can leave you or your family subjected to harsh language and vitriolic attacks. While personal politics are frequently cited in these rants, there may be more significant issues at hand.

"While the incidents have a common thread, at the same time each one is unique. Whatever the confrontation is, it is always a good idea to step back and analyze the situation as clearly as you can to judge where that other person is coming from. Is it someone you feel can be reasoned with or is it someone who in fact has become unhinged and you cannot reason with them?" said JoAnne Donner, president Donner Mediation and Coaching, LLC in Atlanta.

From the Starbucks employee who refused to write 'Trump" on cups resulting in the #Trumpcup challenge to the Florida man who berated a Starbucks employee for taking too long to serve him because he voted for Trump, the irate behavior has come from both sides.

In recent weeks, a woman, driving down the street near her son's school, flipped the bird to a man innocently standing in his driveway. She said she was offended by his "Hillary for Prison" sign. After the man jumped in his car and began tailing her, she called him a racist and cursed at him. When he called the police, she began filming the exchange which she later posted online. The cop advised her to keep driving next time instead of slowing down to express her political views with obscene gestures.

Last week, a woman at a Michael's store in Chicago accused a sales person of discrimination for offering her a $1 re-usable bag. The exchange was filmed by a fellow customer and the woman can be heard declaring her support for Trump as the reason she is being discriminated against. After cursing at and insulting other customers, the woman called the police (as did other customers in the store) though it was unclear whether officers ever arrived on the scene.

Taken at face value, the outbursts can be attributed to the deep divisions our country is experiencing. But are these individuals political dissidents or people with underlying emotional issues?

“There are some situations where these outbursts might be truly and only about politics, some where they are a result of mental illness, and some where it is a function of the perfect storm of someone who has mental illness of some sort and their reaction to politics merely feeds off of their underlying emotional problems, ” said Dr. Andy Gothard of Atlanta Psychological Services.

This election has left many American with raw emotions which may bubble over into everyday interactions. We have also become a culture that is increasingly accustomed to telling it like it is online -- behavior we may never dream of engaging in during face-to-face interactions. The result is a mix of factors that can make public rants a growing problem.

“When these factors are combined – the emotionality related to this election, the possibility of an underlying mental illness, and the social media factor – this could be the reason why people’s public proclamations are so profane,” Gothard said.

Those standing by watching or filming the scenes as they unfold are often left wondering what to do. Should they call the police? Will police officers respond? Should they intervene at all?

“Whether to intervene or not is an age-old question that has anguished many, such as whether to intervene when someone sees a child being spanked in public to the point of abuse. The best rule of thumb is usually not to intervene unless someone is being harmed or has the potential to be harmed. If that potential exists, then the best way to intervene, especially if someone looks like they are having a mental health crisis, is to call the appropriate authorities,” Gothard said.

Stepping into the fray is an individual choice and it should never be done with the intent to escalate the situation, Donner said.

In the Michael's incident, Jessie Grady, the woman who filmed 17 minutes of the exchange, decided to create a GoFundMe account for the salesperson who was the target of the customer's complaints.

In two days, the fund (which had an initial goal of $400) had reached more than $21,000.

Grady said it is her way of standing up for someone who was being mistreated.


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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.