It’s bizarre that it took President Trump’s press secretary being asked to leave a restaurant before she could finish her appetizer to ignite the latest conversation about “civility” in politics.
How Americans treat others who disagree about their political beliefs is always an issue worth discussing, if only to remind us how far we’ve fallen from being able to discuss our differences without figuratively — and sometimes literally at protests — bashing each other over our heads.
But the furor over Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ right to eat a meal in the Virginia restaurant of her choice comes at a time when children who have been forcefully separated from their asylum-seeking parents at the border are being kept in cages. These are tense times. Are dining options where we need to focus our energies and attention?
Sanders has obfuscated and peddled untruths to the American people, treated reporters with open disdain, defended indefensible behavior by her boss and traded her integrity, reputation and credibility for a handsome paycheck and proximity to power.
Yet we wouldn’t be having this discussion if not for her role in spinning the heinous treatment of children and families in our name at the southern border. That ultimate breach of civility was reportedly a breaking point for the restaurant owner who asked Sanders to leave.
I agree with some observers that giving a customer the heave-ho, no matter how politely it’s done, is a slippery slope. Imagine the uproar that would happen if an African American press secretary had been asked by the owner to go outside and told she had to leave the establishment.
I recall talking to the late State Sen. Harriett Elizabeth “Liz” Byrd, Wyoming’s first black woman legislator, about the racism she encountered while growing up. She recounted a time when she was asked to leave a Torrington diner because its owner refused to serve blacks.
The pain she felt remembering that day decades later was etched in her face and palpable in her voice. Byrd explained that the experience helped her work for equal treatment of all races. Because she and others fought discrimination, we now have laws to prevent such outrageous mistreatment.
But we also have a U.S. Supreme Court that last month ruled it’s constitutional for a baker to exercise his religious beliefs and not serve a gay couple. Many of the same pundits who cheered that decision were apoplectic about the Sanders incident.
Just what recourse should be available to those morally outraged by a president who:
- Regularly insults different races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations and genders?
- Encourages his supporters to attack protesters and offers to pay their legal fees?
- Praises homicidal dictators while routinely trashing American allies.
- Describes Nazis and white supremacists marching in American streets as “some very fine people”
As the leader of the free world, the president should provide the moral leadership that makes America the envy of every nation. He or she should be the paragon of civility. The people in a presidential administration have a duty and obligation to model how to treat people with respect.
Instead Trump has divided, degraded and disrespected this country. And Sanders has helped him every day.
Two months before the 2016 election, former Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan and former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson were at a forum in Jackson lamenting the lack of civility in politics.
Casper Star-Tribune reporter Laura Hancock noted that Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton were two of the most despised presidential candidates in history. Hancock asked whether either could be respected by the public when elected.
“Whichever way it goes, you may have an ungovernable country,” Simpson replied. He was right on the money in Trump’s case, which is the only one we can evaluate even though he received 3 million fewer votes than Clinton.
Rasmussen, a conservative polling firm, released a survey June 27 that found 31 percent of probable voters believe there will be a new civil war in the next five years.
Is there a greater sign of decreased civility than those results?
As the fight over Trump’s next Supreme Court nominee heats up, I predict political civility will decline even further. In addition to the steady incivility practiced by Sanders we’ll see emotional objections to specific beliefs and stances.
Sanders has one of the hardest jobs in the nation, and maybe she deserves an occasional night on the town as a reprieve from the madness. But owners of establishments who are in total opposition to how she conducts herself have a right to say she’s not welcome.
It’s hard to imagine the “you’re not welcome here” tactic employed in Wyoming though. What would happen if Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming and Virginia’s own hometown girl, tried to reserve a table at a place whose owner believes waterboarding is torture and can’t condone an elected official seeing it otherwise?
No, I doubt any Wyoming restaurant would shut its doors on Cheney or her dad, former vice president Dick Cheney despite their unabashed support for “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
But both Cheneys could wind up on a permanent “do not serve list” in blue states.
Maybe maître d’s should start grilling would-be customers with a standard list of questions when they seek reservations. It wouldn’t necessarily be a civil encounter, but it might avoid embarrassing scenes like the Sanders dining incident.
“Do you support a wall on the border of Mexico and the U.S.? Who should pay for it? Is Vladimir Putin a threat to America? Which religions would you like to ban from entering the U.S.?
“Thank you. We’ll review your answers, compare it to our owner’s belief system and poll our regulars, and get back to you before the next election. Thanks for applying to be our customer, and bon appetit wherever accepts you.”