The political press and the establishment class have been alarmed and confused by a restaurant owner’s refusal to serve White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders this past weekend. Wasn’t this a betrayal of the basic norms that hold society together? Won’t it just offend and energize President Trump’s base going into the 2018 midterms? Doesn’t target Sanders — or Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who fled a Mexican restaurant last week after being confronted by chanting protesters — just mimic Trump’s own regrettable efforts to undermine civility?
A better question for the pundits, which might help clear things up for them, is this: What makes you think this is any of your business?
Children, some still in diapers, have been seized from their parents by the government and locked in cages, with no clear way to reunite them with their families afterward. That situation might seem more urgent, in itself, than the question of how people chose to react to the government seizing children and locking them in cages. Yet here we are, caught up in this fuss over — manners? Civility?
What happened at the Red Hen in Lexington, Va., was not a contest between political parties, or between designated proxies of political parties. It was a private citizen telling a presidential administration official to go away, out of disgust with the fact that the administration is seizing children from their parents and locking them in cages and banning transgender people from military service. Likewise, the protesters who yelled at Nielsen were not aiming to be part of a normal political process, but to respond to extraordinary events with extraordinary actions.
The self-appointed civility police, the voices of respectable political journalism, are unable to understand this. To the extent that they grasp that there is a crisis, the crisis is that somehow, regrettably, the nation has stopped engaging in politics as usual — and so the answer must be to insist that everyone work together and act as if things are normal, which will restore the old standards of behavior. Be deferential and polite, trust our institutions and wait for a better democratic republic to take shape around you.
As practical advice to professional politicians, this is a historic and almost certainly wishful thinking. Barack Obama sits silently and courteously in self-imposed exile, having spent eight years preaching consensus and comity while his party lost control of the entire federal government and most of the states.
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