The Red Hen restaurant incident has already spun through umpteen news cycles, so I need not recap in detail the proprietor’s polite refusal to feed Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I’ll simply quote her: “This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals…to live their convictions.”
The conviction, among Red Hen’s employees, was that it would be wrong to normalize a serial propagandist, a serial liar for a lying aspiring authoritarian. They felt it was time to take a stand. Makes sense to me. And it makes sense to John Meacham, the eminent historian and presidential biographer, who said the other night: “The presidency sets a certain tone of heart and mind in the heart of the nation. (Trump has) introduced – and even if he hasn’t introduced it, exacerbated to a remarkable degree – a culture of bullying, name-calling, and hectoring. And you reap what you sow.”
But some Trump critics are recoiling in horror and clutching their pearls and essentially saying, “Oooooooo, what that restaurant did was so…uncivil! In the name of common decency and sensible politesse, we should not behave that way. Because we certainly don’t want to rile up the conservatives and the Republicans and the Trump-lovers and give them ammo to use against us. And maybe prompt them to do some terrible things to this country.”
Gee, maybe the pearl-clutchers are right. Maybe we dare not provoke the opposition. Because if we were to be even a wee bit uncivil, then we might make them mad enough to…oh I dunno…steal a Supreme Court seat and install a pro-gerrymander, pro-vote suppression majority.
We might make them mad enough to picket Planned Parenthood and harass women who are trying to get exercise their constitutional rights. We might make them mad enough to shoot abortion providers and firebomb clinics.
We might make them mad enough to popularize T-shirts saying “Trump That Bitch.” We might make them mad enough to cheer the jailing of political opponents, the way they do in dirtbag dictatorships.
We might make them mad enough to relentlessly slime a respected special counsel who’s investigating the multifaceted invasion of our electoral process by a hostile foreign power.
We might make them mad enough to strip health care protections from millions who currently benefit.
We might make them mad enough to sabotage environmental laws that have cleaned the air and water over the past 50 years.
We might make them mad enough to support signs in store windows saying that gays should not be served. Heck, we might make Sanders mad enough to say that very thing from a White House podium.
We might make them mad enough to launch rhetorical assaults on the free and independent press. We might tempt them to borrow an old Soviet communist phrase – “enemies of the people” – and apply it to American reporters.
We might make them mad enough to dehumanize immigrants, to cage children and separate families.
We might make them mad enough to systematically dismantle our democratic values, to cheer the destruction of the postwar western alliance, and to hero-worship the tyrants who’ve long yearned to destroy that alliance.
Heavens, we certainly wouldn’t want to risk any of that. Far better that we heed Henry Cadbury, a sagacious American professor who offered this advice to Germany’s Jews in 1934:
“By hating Hitler and trying to fight back, they are only increasing the severity of his policies against them. If Jews throughout the world try to instill into the minds of Hitler and his supporters recognition of the ideals for which the race stands, and if Jews appeal to the German sense of justice and the German national conscience, I am sure the problem will be solved more effectively and earlier than otherwise.”
Such wise words. Best not to fight back in our daily lives. Best not risk any bad things happening to the country. Best we fold our hands and trust in their innate goodness. Problem solved!