This episode follows one on Tuesday in which Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was heckled at a Mexican restaurant, a culinary choice as jarring as Melania Trump’s jacket given the administration’s deliberate cruelty exhibited toward Hispanic children and their families. The loud protesters who gathered prompted her to leave. In addition, anti-immigrant zealot Stephen Miller, who pushed as hard as anyone for snatching kids from their parents, was dining in a different Mexican restaurant last Sunday when, according to the New York Post, a protester called out, “Hey look guys, whoever thought we’d be in a restaurant with a real-life fascist begging [for] money for new cages?”
Unsurprisingly, the restaurant confrontations became a source of debate on cable television. On CNN, Ana Navarro tartly observed, “You make choices in life. And there is a cost to being an accomplice to this cruel, deceitful administration.” So, are these reactions to Trump aides reassuring and appropriate acts of social ostracism that communicate to the cogs in a barbaric bureaucracy that they cannot escape the consequences of their actions? Alternatively, should we view these as a sign of our descent into incivility, evidence that we are so polarized we literally cannot stand to be in the same room as those with whom we disagree?
It depends on how you view the child-separation policy. If you think the decision to separate children from parents as a means of deterring other asylum seekers is simply one more policy choice, like tax cuts or negotiations with North Korea, then, yes, screaming at political opponents is inappropriate. Such conduct is contrary to the democratic notion that we do not personally destroy our political opponents but, rather, respect differences and learn to fight and perhaps compromise on another day. If, however, you think the child-separation policy is in a different class — a human rights crime, an inhumane policy for which the public was primed by efforts to dehumanize a group of people (“animals,” “infest,” etc.) — then it is both natural and appropriate for decent human beings to shame and shun the practitioners of such a policy.
This exception to the rule of polite social action should be used sparingly (if for no other reason than we will never get through a restaurant meal without someone hollering at someone else). If a lawmaker, for example, who favors a harsh, ill-conceived immigration bill walks into a restaurant, I would not recommend raising a rumpus (though I would not invite that person to my home).
Listen, I get it. The notion of shunning or excluding or heckling can devolve into philosophical hair-splitting as to whether someone has engaged in normal public service or whether they’ve strayed outside the bounds of decent behavior. Each to his own method of expressing disdain and fury, I suppose.
Nevertheless, it is not altogether a bad thing to show those who think they’re exempt from personal responsibility that their actions bring scorn, exclusion and rejection. If you don’t want to provoke wrath, don’t continue to work for someone whose cruel and inhumane treatment of others rivals the internment of U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II. And yes, I’d have hollered at then-California Attorney General Earl Warren, who pushed for the roundup of people of Japanese ancestry, even American citizens.