Over the weekend there was a fair bit of argument over the decision by a small restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, not to serve dinner to President Donald Trump’s press secretary. It wasn’t the first time recently that strong political feelings have spilled into what used to be considered the private sphere.
We understand the strength of the feelings, but we don’t think the spilling is a healthy development.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders was dining with a few other people at the Red Hen in Lexington Friday night. Several of the restaurant’s staff are gay and objected to Sanders’ defense of Trump’s discriminatory policies against transgender people. The staff also objected to the administration’s recent actions leading to the separation of thousands of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Respecting her staff’s wishes, the restaurant owner politely asked Sanders to leave, and Sanders politely acceded. She then tweeted about the episode, turning it into a public controversy.
This followed by a few days the very public heckling of two architects of that border policy, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, at Washington restaurants. Last month a Nebraska sociology professor was found guilty of vandalism for spraying false blood at the home of a National Rifle Association lobbyist in Alexandria, Virginia
It’s not a new tactic for protesters of one sort or another to target a public official’s home or private life. But never-at-rest social media have blurred the line between work hours and private time. Cellphone cameras make it ever easier to intrude and broadcast.
Most obviously, passions are running high. Those who defend the Red Hen staff, or Nielsen’s hecklers, say this is no ordinary policy dispute. Trump has ordered terrible violations of human rights at the border, he is demonizing immigrants by his actions and his rhetoric, and people need to speak up however they can.
They will get no argument from us regarding Trump’s border policy, and when it comes to coarsening the debate, he is the prime offender.
The poisonous fruits could be seen, as it happens, Saturday morning in a vile tweet from Sanders’ father, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, that associated House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, with the vicious MS-13 gang.
We nonetheless would argue that Sanders, and Nielsen and Miller, too, should be allowed to eat dinner in peace. Those who are insisting that we are in a special moment justifying incivility should think for a moment how many Americans might find their own special moment. How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?
Down that road lies a world in which only the most zealous sign up for public service. That benefits no one.