Even as a 28-second cellphone video of an explosive April 1 confrontation in Palo Alto over a Make America Great Again hat surfaced on Thursday, a Stanford University political science professor who has researched political polarization called such behaviors "abnormal."
The video, recorded by a cafe customer and provided to the Weekly on the condition that it not be published, shows Palo Alto resident Rebecca Parker Mankey screaming at an elderly white man wearing a red MAGA cap as he walks down the alley outside of the Starbucks on California Avenue.
"Go! Leave! Nobody wants you here," Mankey, clad in all black, yells at the top of her lungs as she stalks after him. "Get your f------, Trump-loving MAGA hat out of my g--damn town, you a------!"
She continues the tirade against him as she enters the parking lot at the end of the alleyway: "It is NOT OK to be a racist!” she shouts angrily. “It's NOT OK to be a Nazi!"
The person who filmed the video, who asked not to be identified, wrote in an email to the Weekly, "I (am) not a fan of people being harassed in public places regardless of their political views, and I think everyone inside Starbucks felt the same way.
"What really surprised me was that the Starbucks staff didn't do anything," the person added.
"You can't preach your views as better ones when you are acting the exact same terrible way as what you are protesting against. In a way, MAGA hats to me are a testing time for the opposite end of the spectrum, to show where their values are," the person said.
The customer recalled hearing the man in the MAGA hat, a regular at the coffeehouse, talk loudly about politics at another time.
"But does it gives anyone the right to harass you? I think absolutely not," the customer said.
Such extreme political confrontations are increasing, but they are far from the norm, according to Morris Fiorina, a Stanford University professor and Hoover Institution senior fellow.
"This incivil behavior is unusual. It is not a trend," Fiorina said by phone on Thursday.
Most ordinary people don't engage in this type of behavior, whether it's undertaken on behalf of the political right or the left.
"The population as a whole is just going about their business and raising their kids. They only get into politics when they have to," he said.
Those who exhibit these extreme behaviors have let "partisanship become a political identity," he said.
To them, politics is no longer just about different points of view on policy. Opposing views become a personal threat and insult, he said.
"It's extremely abnormal," he said. "It's so counterproductive. It just alienates the kind of people you want to persuade."
The misconception that these extreme behaviors are widespread has been fanned by social media and television, and that's unfortunate, he said.
Fiorina added that research shows 40 percent of the population claim not to have a party affiliation in the current environment.
Like Fiorina, Samara Klar, associate professor of political science at the University of Arizona, Tucson, considers the behaviors of both Mankey and Victor -- her outburst and his wearing his MAGA hat in public and talking loudly about politics -- to be atypical.
Co-author of "Independent Politics: How American Disdain for Parties Leads to Political Inaction," Klar studies how individuals' personal identities and social surroundings influence their political attitudes and behavior.
"Survey data shows that only 15-20% of people exhibit strong political, in-group biases," said Klar, referring to people who are clearly focused on their own political group and against another.
Most people get together and are happy to talk about their children or their positions within their family, such as parenting. But not politics.
"They'd just rather not. There is a dislike of partisanship in public, and that is a trend that is escalating," she said.
Ask people how they identify themselves, and almost every other kind of identification will come before politics, she said. People identify themselves as Americans, by their race, gender, job, but rarely by their political affiliation. And most people see each other through their social identifications rather than political ones.
A minority of people who identify politically are highly vocal and are often dangerous, such as the man who sent pipe bombs to politicians through the mail, she said. But for most people, "It's hard to rationalize behavior that is rare and violates social norms," she added.
Studies have shown that Democrats and Republicans don't think it's OK to behave aggressively toward each other. But affective polarization, a concept developed at Stanford, could be on the rise, she said. Affective polarization is when members of the two parties truly dislike each other in a way that has become polarizing and toxic, she said. Still, the evidence for that in society is mixed, she added.
One trend on the upswing is more people are disliking the negative level of vitriol they are seeing in politicians' rhetoric, she said.
Many people prefer to hide their politics by being independents, but what makes them distinctive is they have a real dislike for the rancor. They won't put up a yard sign or wear a red hat or publicly discuss their preference. Displaying a party affiliation can be a real social stigma.
There is also much research showing that people think independent candidates are more trustworthy and even more attractive, she said.