Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Social media pushes menu of anger with side of frustration -- June 28, 2018 column


You can count on one thing in our polarized, social media age: An action often leads to massive over-reaction.

This week’s case in point is the Red Hen incident.

The action was the decision by a restaurant owner in Lexington, Va., to take a stand against the “inhumane and unethical” Trump administration by refusing to serve White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The over-reaction on both sides rolled in like lava in Hawaii -- fiery, swift and destructive.

Tens of thousands tweets in support of and against the Red Hen, including an angry one from President Donald Trump. Calls for more shaming and for more civility. Protests and counter-protests, and an arrest of a man who threw chicken dung at the restaurant. All this in just three days.

To recap, Stephanie Wilkinson, owner of the 26-seat restaurant, told Sanders, after consulting with her employees, the restaurant has standards to uphold, “such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation” and asked her to leave, Wilkinson told The Washington Post.

The next morning, Sanders tweeted, “I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so.”

Trump fired off a nasty tweet to his 53 million followers: “The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”

Actually, no. For the record, the Red Hen sailed through its last health department inspection with no violations, NBC News reported, but Florida health inspectors cited Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort with more than a dozen violations last year.  

Trumpians posted Wilkinson’s home address and phone number online, accused her of various crimes and invited Immigration and Customs Enforcement to check her employees.

The Republican Party of Virginia urged supporters to sign up for a boycott “so we can show the Red Hen and its liberal supporters that patriotic Trump supporters are the silent majority in Virginia!”

One of the more than 1,200 signers commented, “Haven’t we had enough of being pushed around by the left?”

On Tuesday, as protests engulfed the Red Hen, a man reportedly was arrested after he threw chicken manure at the building while shouting, “Make America Great Again.” The restaurant is reportedly closed until July 5.

Other Trump officials have also been shamed in public, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., rashly urged Trump foes to keep up the pressure.

“If you see somebody 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,” she said Saturday at a rally in Los Angeles.

Trump tweeted in response that Waters is “an extraordinarily low IQ person,” and Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer quickly criticized Waters.  

“If you disagree with a politician, organize your fellow citizens to action and vote them out of office. But no one should call for the harassment of political opponents,” Schumer said in a floor speech. “That’s not right. That’s not American.”

In Lexington, Wilkinson said she had asked her employees, several of whom are gay, what they wanted her to do, and they chose to turn Sanders away.

I understand their frustration and anger at Trump’s policies, but was kicking out Sanders worth it?

The surprise appearance of Trump’s spokeswoman nearly 200 miles from Washington could have been a moment for remembering Michelle Obama’s words: “When they go low, we go high.”

Alice Waters’ famous restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., faced a staff mutiny in 1974 when hated Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman came in with a large party. Ultimately, chef Jeremiah Tower insisted the pariah be served.

“What chefs should know is, it’s not about you. It’s about the customer. You don’t get to judge who can partake of that hospitality. If customers are being obnoxious you can ask them to leave. But not because of who they are or what their politics is. Everyone has the same right to live in this country. If they’re just sitting there and enjoying their dinner, hallelujah,” Tower told NPR last year.

Unintentionally, the Red Hen gave Trump fans a gift – a social media cause to rally around and a weapon against Democrats in fall campaigns. That’s a mistake Trump foes should not make again.

©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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