Monday, June 25, 2018

On 'eating out' - Why we should keep partisan politics out of restaurants

Members of the Trump administration who show up in public places are taking heat for their parts in the design and execution of President Trump’s immigration policy. If you know about this already, scroll on down to the end for my commentary. If not, read about three incidents involving Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump policy advisor Stephen Miller, and now Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The Washington Post reported Kirstjen Nielsen heckled by protesters at Mexican restaurant. Other diners applauded them. Nielsen is the public face of Trump’s zero tolerance policy that resulted in the separation of thousands of children from their parents.

Protesters entered a Mexican restaurant in D.C. on Tuesday evening to heckle Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. She appeared to sit quietly with her head down for more than 10 minutes listening to the protesters chanting “Shame!” and “End family separation!”

"Secretary Nielsen!” a male protester yelled as the group approached Nielsen’s table, according to live video footage posted on Facebook by Metro D.C. Democratic Socialists of America. “How dare you spend your evening here eating dinner as you’re complicit in the separation and deportation of over 10,000 children separated from their parents? How can you enjoy a Mexican dinner as you’re deporting and imprisoning tens of thousands of people who come here seeking asylum in the United States? We call on you to end family separation and abolish ICE!”

If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace!” the protesters yelled.

“In a Mexican restaurant, of all places!” one said.

“Have you listened to it? Do you hear the babies crying?” one said of audio leaked from an immigration facility to ProPublica in which children can be heard crying for their parents.

Just a few hours earlier, Nielsen had retweeted President Trump’s praise for the “fabulous job” she did at a news conference explaining the administration’s policy.

[Ana Navarro tweeted] “Are there no Norwegian restaurants in Washington, DC?”

The New York Post reported that, two days earlier, a Protester yells ‘fascist’ at Stephen Miller dining in Mexican restaurant. (Miller is thought to be the architect of Trump’s anti-immigration program that separates kids from mothers.)

White House adviser Stephen Miller was accosted at a Mexican restaurant by a patron calling him a “fascist” — two nights before Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was hounded out of another south-of-the-border eatery, sources told The Post.

Miller chose to dine at Espita Mezcaleria in the DC neighborhood of Shaw on Sunday, amid growing anger over the Trump administration separating migrant kids from their parents — a policy the aide had described as a “simple decision.”

“Hey look guys, whoever thought we’d be in a restaurant with a real-life fascist begging [for] money for new cages?” a customer at the Mezcal joint snarled at Miller, according to a source who saw the encounter.

Miller didn’t respond and scurried away, the witness said.

Both Nielsen and Miller may have fallen prey to a disconnect in what Americans think about Mexicans. Here’s a choice quote from Helen Rosner, a roving food correspondent for newyorker.com: The Absurdity of Trump Officials Eating at Mexican Restaurants During an Immigration Crisis.

… to many other Americans, including those leading our government, there is a simple, reflexive disconnect between cultural product and cultural producer, between policy and people. “Everyone hates Mexicans, but everyone at the same time loves Mexican food,” the Mexican-American writer Gustavo Arellano told the Huffington Post, in 2016. “When they’re eating it, they’re able to disassociate it from the people who made it, or who picked it or slaughtered those cows.”

In the most recent instance, Sarah Suckabee Handers (my nomination for her stage name), left a restaurant after being asked to leave by the owner. The Washington Post reports The owner of the Red Hen explains why she asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave.

Stephanie Wilkinson was at home Friday evening — nearly 200 miles from the White House — when the choice presented itself.

Her phone rang about 8 p.m. It was the chef at the Red Hen, the tiny farm-to-table restaurant that she co-owned just off Main Street in this small city in the western part of the state.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders had just walked in and sat down, the chef informed her.

“He said the staff is a little concerned. What should we do?” Wilkinson told The Washington Post. “I said I’d be down to see if it’s true.”

Several Red Hen employees are gay, she said. They knew Sanders had defended Trump’s desire to bar transgender people from the military. This month, they had all watched her evade questions and defend a Trump policy that caused migrant children to be separated from their parents.

[Wilkinson] knew — she believed — that Sarah Huckabee Sanders worked in the service of an “inhumane and unethical” administration. That she publicly defended the president’s cruelest policies, and that that could not stand.

“I’m not a huge fan of confrontation,” Wilkinson said. “I have a business, and I want the business to thrive. This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”

So …

"Tell me what you want me to do. I can ask her to leave,” Wilkinson told her staff, she said. “They said ‘yes.’ ”

[Wilkinson and Huckabee Sanders] stepped outside, into another small enclosure, but at least out of the crowded restaurant.

“I was babbling a little, but I got my point across in a polite and direct fashion,” Wilkinson said. “I explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.

“I said, ‘I’d like to ask you to leave.’ ”

And the Press Secretary and her entourage did.

… For all the angst that evening, Wilkinson said, everything had taken place with decorum. She had been polite; Sanders had been polite; the press secretary’s family had been polite as they followed her out the door.

Not surprisingly, Trumpkins responded in a much less civil manner. For example, “… fans of President Trump were doing their best to troll the restaurant’s phone line with fake reservations.”

The obvious purpose was to inflict financial damage on the Red Hen. The restaurant rating service Yelp received thousands of reviews by people who obviously had never eaten at the Red Hen thus dragging down the restaurant’s rating.

Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post/Right Turn) opines on Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the lost art of shunning

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders — whose lies are piling up at a furious rate and whose defense of the child-separation policy prompted a reporter to exclaim, “Come on, Sarah, you’re a parent” — was reportedly asked to leave a restaurant in Virginia on Friday because she works for President Trump. In a tweet, she explained that “I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left.” She then couldn’t help lying again: “I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so.” Anyone who has seen her sneer, insult and condescend to the press knows that’s not the case.

Unsurprisingly, the restaurant confrontations became a source of debate on cable television. On CNN, Ana Navarro tartly observed, “You make choices in life. And there is a cost to being an accomplice to this cruel, deceitful administration.” So, are these reactions to Trump aides reassuring and appropriate acts of social ostracism that communicate to the cogs in a barbaric bureaucracy that they cannot escape the consequences of their actions? Alternatively, should we view these as a sign of our descent into incivility, evidence that we are so polarized we literally cannot stand to be in the same room as those with whom we disagree?

It depends on how you view the child-separation policy. If you think the decision to separate children from parents as a means of deterring other asylum seekers is simply one more policy choice, like tax cuts or negotiations with North Korea, then, yes, screaming at political opponents is inappropriate. Such conduct is contrary to the democratic notion that we do not personally destroy our political opponents but, rather, respect differences and learn to fight and perhaps compromise on another day. If, however, you think the child-separation policy is in a different class — a human rights crime, an inhumane policy for which the public was primed by efforts to dehumanize a group of people (“animals,” “infest,” etc.) — then it is both natural and appropriate for decent human beings to shame and shun the practitioners of such a policy.

Scriber’s comments

Using Rubin’s words, one question this raises for me at least is whether “it is not altogether a bad thing to show those who think they’re exempt from personal responsibility that their actions bring scorn, exclusion and rejection”. My answer is yes and no. It depends on the venue. I think Sanders should be taken to task by journalists for every single lie she repeats and defends - in press conferences, but not in restaurants. I’ve been worried sick about our crumbling societal norms, customs, and institutions. One of these is “eating out.” Must restaurants now be places for partisan political warfare? Gawd, I hope not.

But all of this raises deeper questions about who gets to do what to whom and when.

Remember this one?

The Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling [June 4th] in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop bakery owner Jack Phillips, who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple due to the shop owner’s religious beliefs.

Notably, the court limited its decision to the specifics of this case – mainly how the Colorado Civil Rights Commission handled Phillips’ claim. The court did not rule that the Constitution grants the right to discriminate but maintained the longstanding principle that business owners cannot deny equal access to goods and services.

Those are quotes from just one of the many reports earlier this month, this one by CNN: Gay wedding cake ruling reaffirms that businesses can’t discriminate.

So let me put two themes together. (1) A restaurant owner refused service to a customer because the owner took exception to the customer’s political behaviors. (2) A baker refused to make a cake for two customers because of the baker’s religious beliefs about the sexual orientation of the customers. The Trump fans who trolled the Red Hen phone line, I suspect, would defend (2) and, as they did, attack (1). Conversely, if you believe that (1) is justified, can you also deny (2)?

To put it in logical terms, (1) .AND. (2) is TRUE. Any other combination including .NOT.(1) or .N OT.(2) is FALSE.

EJ Montini from The Republic/azcentral.com agrees. He considers why Sarah Sanders dining snub is nothing compared to woman denied miscarriage medication. This has already gotten long, so I’ll do the short version. “Opinion: If you believe it’s okay for some business owners to turn away customers based on some belief then you can’t play the victim when it happens to you.

I’d guess that a number of those who are incensed by what the restaurant owner did to Sanders would somehow have no problem with a Walgreens pharmacist in Peoria refusing to give a woman who lost a fetus inside the womb the medicine she needed.

At her 10-week pregnancy check-up Nicole Arteaga was told that her developing child was gone. There was no heartbeat. She was prescribed medication by her doctor to manage the upcoming miscarriage by terminating the pregnancy.

The pharmacist refused to help her, based on ethical grounds.

Is that what we’ve become? A country where anyone can refuse to serve anyone or help anyone based on any type of belief — philosophical, religious, ethical, political…whatever?

… her “victimhood,” which is how Sanders and her supporters are playing it, may be overshadowed may by their hypocrisy. The administration already has come out in support of businesses that don’t want to serve members of the LGBTQ community.

If the people supporting Sanders are willing to say that every business open to the public should serve every member of the public — no matter their political affiliation or religious beliefs or sexual identity or anything else — I’m with them.

But if they believe it is wrong to turn away Sanders but right for a pharmacist to turn away a suffering woman with medical needs they should check their moral compass. The declination is off.

It’s pointing to someplace other than America.

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