Three days later, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, because of the policies of the administration she represents. “I explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty and compassion and cooperation,” the owner, Stephanie Wilkinson, told the Washington Post. “I said, ‘I’d like to ask you to leave.’”
An aggrieved Sanders later tweeted: “Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully, and will continue to do so.”
When it comes to matters of civility in political discourse, the Trump administration and its advocates are in no position to preach: any plausible claim they may have staked for the moral high ground was torched very early on. Trump made a Pocahontas joke while addressing Native American servicemen; called protesting black football players “sons of bitches”; and, on Monday, tweeted that a black Congresswoman, Maxine Waters, was “an extremely low IQ person”. Having laid waste to decorum, tradition, convention and sensitivity, his administration should not be surprised when people respond in kind.
The issue here goes beyond etiquette. Both during his campaign and in office, Trump has violated basic democratic norms. He has encouraged violence at his rallies, said he may not accept the election result if he lost, and thanked African Americans for not voting. In office he has threatened to pardon himself if prosecuted; employed his family in key positions while authorising small children to be taken from their own families; endorsed and supported an alleged paedophile for the Senate; drawn an abhorrent equivalence between neo-Nazis and anti-fascist protesters; called for due legal process to be denied to immigrants; advised police to physically abuse suspects; and, as upheld by the supreme court on Tuesday, barred people from several Muslim countries from entering the US.
This is not just another president, with whom one may have honest disagreements: it is a brazenly dishonest man who routinely and openly uses misogyny, xenophobia and racism as political tools. Not so long ago, Republicans also claimed Trump was unfit to be president. Some still do.
It makes little sense to prostrate oneself at the altar of civility while others are gleefully desecrating democracy itself. Historical precedents abound where people, in retrospect, feel they should have done more when they had the chance. We do not need to reserve opinion on what Trump is capable of before we get to the end of this sordid journey. The time to pull the emergency brake is now. We have seen enough.
As acts of resistance go, this week’s at the Red Hen could hardly have been less impulsive or more mild. The chef noticed Sanders and called Wilkinson at home to say the staff were concerned and to ask what they should do. Wilkinson drove to the restaurant and consulted the staff. Many are gay, and were offended by her defence of the transgender ban in the military. They were also unimpressed by her evasion of questions on the child separation policy. They said they wanted Sanders to leave. Wilkinson asked her out on to the patio, while her party of around eight were on their cheese plates, and carried out their request. It may not have been civil, but it was certainly cordial. Sanders’ party offered to pay for what they had eaten. Wilkinson told them it was on the house. Womp womp.
While parents on the Mexican border are being told their kids are being taken for a bath only to find they have been abducted by the state and detained alone, there is only so much sympathy I can have for someone who actively promotes that policy from being inconvenienced in her dinner plans.