Red Hen owner Stephanie Wilkinson asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave her Lexington, Virginia restaurant , declaring it a moral issue. Wilkinson said her request was in the name of upholding “certain standards, like honesty, compassion and cooperation.” Some of her gay employees had objected to Sanders’ defense of Donald Trump’s ban on transgenders in the military. At what point do we want to go down the road to denying service based on political beliefs?
Vocal critics of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen jeered her out of a Mexican restaurant. And Congresswoman Maxine Waters has called on Trump critics to push back aggressively on administration officials wherever they are encountered, be it restaurants, super markets or other daily activities. All these actions may feel good temporarily, but does taking a moral stance really require screaming and hurling gross epithets?
What is helped when Robert DeNiro at the Golden Globe awards starts his presentation with “F___ Trump?” or when Samantha Bee calls Melania Trump a “feckless c___?” Satisfying as these displays may be at some dark level, especially for people fed up with the immorality of the Trump administration, I cling to the idea that when Trump goes low, it is still better to respond by going high.
I don’t agree with Globe writer Renee Graham’s assertion in today’s paper that “civility is a buzzy word for the ultimate goal: submission.” Not so, as long as you have plans for alternative action. Graham said “civility didn’t end slavery, defeat the Nazis, or get the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts passed.” But those examples, along with ending the Vietnam War, required not just outrage but painstaking organizing, and that’s what people should be doing today.
Our focus simply must be on the mid-term elections, backing candidates outside our blue bubble who have a chance of regaining control of Congress and supporting activities to register voters and get them to the polls.
I’m not saying that civility should take precedence over justice and morality. But righteous rage and indignation should translate into concrete action rather than give “the other side” yet another reason to divert the debate we should be having and dismiss the legitimacy of our views.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump is the principal force driving incivility to the lowest possible levels at dizzying rates. He is a self-referential moral degenerate, a racist and a bigot who plays to the darkest aspects of the American spirit, gleefully feeding the true believers who are the core of his base. He has destroyed the moral authority of his office and our stature in the world. Even more disturbing are his enablers, the craven Republicans who have allowed him to remake the GOP in his own image and who refuse to speak out against him, impede his dystopian agenda or halt his shredding of normative behavior that has historically permitted conservatives and liberals to negotiate compromise.
I don’t embrace Huckabee Sanders, who has lied to the American people every day that she has spoken in defense of her boss and his inhumane and short-sighted policies. These are times that call for dramatic response, but the Maxine Waters version of supermarket and restaurant confrontation is bound to be counterproductive. Instead, check in with organizing groups like indivisible.org or support the Parkland kids.
Find candidates willing to put themselves on the line and run for office in red states. Donate to courageous candidates like Major M.J. Hegar, a combat pilot and Purple Heart recipient running in Texas’ 31st district, who describes herself as an “ass-kicking, motorcycle-riding Texas Democrat” and is also a mom. She is willing to break down doors to “leave [our children] a world in which they can breathe clean air, love whomever they want, choose what God they believe in, and safely express who they are.”
There are others worth seeking out and supporting. It’s not naive to think that channeling our rage into political activism will be more productive than restaurant face-offs or schoolyard fist fights.