Where are America’s adults? When we look at the controversy stirred up when a Lexington restaurant asked the White House press secretary to leave, what we mostly see are adults acting no better than middle schoolers.
Actually, we take that back — because the middle schoolers we know are better behaved than most of the adults here. On all sides. If these were days of old, grandma would be out back sharpening up a hickory stick. OK, maybe that wasn’t the best way to handle misbehavior, either, but the point is the same: A lot of people are acting poorly here. Let’s review.
The Red Hen. We’ve dealt with this before, but it bears repeating before we go on. We don’t need a society in which restaurants are turning away people based on their politics. Perhaps it seems virtuous to ask Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave because she’s a mouthpiece for a president that many find morally reprehensible, but that doesn’t do anything to change the policies people find so outrageous. The only practical way to curtail the worst actions of the Trump administration is to vote in a new Congress in the 2018 mid-terms and the only way to dislodge it is to vote Trump out of office in 2020. Period, end of statement. Any “statement” like the one made by a restauranteur in Lexington is simply hollow.
What happened at the Red Hen is quite different from what happened in Radford in 2012 when the Crumb and Get It Bakery declined to host Vice President Joe Biden. In that instance, Biden’s staff had asked permission to stop by for a brief appearance. The owner said no, because he disagreed with Biden’s politics. That’s quite fair; the baker didn’t want to be a campaign backdrop for a politician he disagreed with. But if Biden had shown up anyway, yes, the baker should have sold him a cookie. We don’t need a politically-segregated country with “No Democrats Allowed” or “No Republicans Allowed” signs.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California. She called on people to personally confront Trump administration officials: “Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” Umm, what she’s really calling for here is mob rule. This is simply dangerous. It’s also counter-productive. People are right to be angry over many of Trump’s policies, but if what voters see in response is a howling mob, they are unlikely to conclude that the mob is better fit to run the government. On the contrary, they are likely to side with “the devil they know.” Nobody has to tone down their outrage over policies they disagree with, but they should channel it into productive responses. Physically harassing political opponents is not one of them. The fact that we even have to write these words is rather alarming.
President Trump. He could have used this moment to appeal to Americans to rise above their political divisions. That, of course, is not Trump’s way. His whole modus operandi is to keep people stirred up. Abraham Lincoln called on “the better angels of our nature” and history reveres him. That same history will judge Trump and those who swoon at his demagoguery quite harshly. Sadly, the Red Hen incident is just one of a long list of examples where Trump forfeited the opportunity to exercise the moral authority of his office.
John Findlay. The executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia showed up at the Red Hen on Tuesday hoping to get kicked out because he was festooned with a Trump 2020 sticker. Really? This isn’t funny. We’re talking about something quite serious here — the social fabric of America fraying in ways we haven’t seen before. Let’s not encourage this sort of thing through some childish prank. Civil rights protesters tried to persuade lunch counters to do something right; he’s trying to goad a restaurant into doing something wrong. Again.
Chicken manure man. America has a proud tradition of protest. We even guarantee it in our Constitution, through freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of peaceable assembly, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. So the protestors who have gathered outside the Red Hen — on both sides — are all well within their rights. But whoever drove by and threw a bucket of chicken manure on the sidewalk – come on, dude. What were you thinking? And there must have been some thinking here, however poor it might have been. This was hardly a spontaneous act, unless you just happen to be driving around with a bucket of chicken manure in the passenger seat. Is this really how mature, responsible adults engage in civic discourse? If you think the Red Hen was wrong to ask Sanders to leave, how does tossing a bucket of chicken manure demonstrate your moral superiority? The offender — who has been charged with disorderly content — allegedly shouted “make America great again!” Umm, not like this, buddy, not like this.
Ben Cline. The Republican delegate from Rockbridge County — and now his party’s candidate for Congress in the 6th District — tweeted: “On behalf of my hometown of Lexington, I want to apologize for the rudeness of one liberal New York transplant (who also happens to be Meryl Streep’s cousin). We hope you will come back and enjoy our area’s true southern hospitality.” Cline is right to tout the hospitality of his hometown, but what’s with the reference to “one liberal New York transplant”? Does being a “New York transplant” make the Red Hen owner something less than a “true” resident of Lexington? Aren’t we beyond that kind of nativism? After all, the congressman who Cline hopes to succeed and once worked for — U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke County — is a “Massachusetts transplant.”
This is hardly the worst offense here — certainly not on a par with throwing chicken manure, or calling for howling mobs, or quietly asking a political figure to leave the premises — but it’s not the most high-minded response, either. For that, we can turn to Goodlatte, one of the few people who hit the right note when he tweeted: “What @PressSec experienced in Lexington last night is very unfortunate and doesn’t reflect accurately upon the kind and caring people of Lexington that I know. There are many great and innovative businesses in #VA06 that I hope you’ll come back to visit.”
Goodlatte is acting like an adult here. A lot of others aren’t.