After about 48 hours of squawking about the Red Hen’s refusal to serve White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday night, followed by Trump tweet inaccurately accusing the restaurant of uncleanliness (people who own health department-cited establishments shouldn’t throw stones), and then also hearing Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) essentially call for mobs to descend upon Trump aides, I’ve had my fill of the topic.
Moreover, after all the hand-wringing over the last couple of days, we should refocus on the real issue — the unprecedented racist conduct of a president who has threatened to do away with immigrants’ constitutional rights (yes, they have them, even though they aren’t citizens). Nevertheless, for the sake of closure, I’ll make a number of points and then — we hope — put this to bed. There is plenty else to discuss, including Trump’s shredding of the Constitution, the omnipresent corruption in his administration and the utter incompetence of his trade, immigration and other policies. (For those who follow my Twitter feed, what follows is a more complete discussion of a thread I put up Monday morning.)
As a preliminary matter, a great number of people I respect want no public rebukes, no shaming of Trump officials. They want to go “high” when Trump goes “low.” I respect that but I think — no surprise! — the cable TV debate and even some well-meaning politicians and pundits are missing some nuance.
When I voiced — and still voice — support for quiet and not-so-quiet acts of social snubbing and shaming, I surely wasn’t calling for mobs to descend on anyone. Waters didn’t help her side by suggesting as much. No one should be urging conduct that can devolve into violence. No one should stalk anyone or break any other law.
On the other side, objecting that personal confrontation is no substitute for political action and for voting misses the point; no one serious argues that denying Sanders a quiet dinner is going to end the scourge of Trump. Here, we are talking about individual actions of conscience that put the president’s aides and former aides on notice that they have betrayed the public’s trust and offended their fellow Americans’ sense of decency.
We, after all, do have a long and honorable tradition of public demonstration and rebuke. Protests outside abortion clinics, for example, intend to make people feel uncomfortable. Civil rights protesters did the same during the 1960s and beyond. They, too, were accused of being disruptive and impolite. Sometimes, however, a little discomfort serves some social purpose. One is not entitled to live a life without fuss or muss after engaging in destructive, racists and antidemocratic conduct in office or public life. (If David Duke had walked into the Red Hen, I’d be in favor of calling him out and asking him to leave. )
But let’s take a step back here. Ordinary Americans have a right, maybe even an obligation, not to reward conduct that has promoted dishonesty, racism and authoritarianism. I would applaud employers who would shun former Trump aides and refuse to hire them, citing their lying in public office and their participation in an administration increasingly reliant on a white-grievance message. Likewise, no one should feel compelled to invite former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon over for brunch, or throw a birthday party for Sanders or invite her to the neighborhood block party. Certainly, excluding public figures from social occasions and niceties is a valid expression of disdain from Americans who’ve paid their salaries. We are talking about small, but pointed demonstrations, expressions of our rights of free speech and association.
Let’s then agree that there is a vast gray area between chasing Trump aides down the street with pitchforks and pretending as though nothing they have done in public life warrants scorn. In the case of the Red Hen, the owner took Sanders outside and quietly asked her to leave, saying her party could stay. Sanders left and the owner comped the drinks and snacks they’d already consumed. This personal act of protest was not, in my mind, barbarous conduct beyond the pale. There should be room for people to object, to exercise their free-speech rights, and to let Trump aides know they are personally responsible in the eyes of their fellow citizens for enabling an administration that has operated outside the bounds of constitutional government and democratic norms.
Finally, Trump’s use of his position to slam a business — like his threats to use the U.S. Postal Service against Amazon.com (whose founder and chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, also owns The Post), to tax Harley-Davidson, to harass individual employers that do not pay deference, or worst of all, to “pull the license” of a news organization — is a misuse and abuse of his office. He does not have the right to say whatever he wants like an ordinary citizen; he’s taken an oath, and part of that oath is to fairly and equally execute the laws. Using the power of the president to run some business owner out of town is the stuff of tin-pot dictators.
In sum, the choice is not between, on one hand, pretending this is a normal administration whose political appointees get treated like everyone else and, on the other, resorting to behavior that instills fear, risks violence or breaks the law. Moreover, I never favor any sort of display or outburst when someone is with their child. (Remember, the country is in an uproar because collectively we treat all children with care.) However, I’d like to think the members of this administration would become social pariahs of sorts; they are not entitled to go through life insult-free and embarrassment-free after their egregious conduct in public life. Now lets get back to the victims of Trump’s inhumane policies.