A few weeks ago, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the current press secretary of the Trump administration, ran into a bit of trouble when she went to eat with friends at a restaurant called the Red Hen. After sitting down, and being served a few cheese platters, she was asked to step outside by the owner. In a brief, and quite polite, conversation, Sanders was asked to kindly dine somewhere else. The restaurant had “certain standards,” said the owner, “such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.” In short, the owner followed her deeply held convictions and refused to serve someone whose lifestyle went against her beliefs.
Poetic justice is a truly wonderful thing, isn’t it? To her credit, Sanders didn’t seem particularly fazed. She apparently took the refusal with equanimity and grace. That’s far more than can be said of her fellow Republicans, especially her father, who kicked the media circus into high gear. However, while Democrats may find justice in watching Republicans be turned down from certain establishments, and amusement in the hysterical reactions which follow, refusal of service based on political beliefs is not the best way to move forward.
Don’t get me wrong; I think this is both hilarious and well-deserved. But, this new front in the culture war seems like a bridge too far. Even the current form of protest by exclusion has handed Republicans an issue to use as a distraction from the myriad issues the current administration has caused. Now, instead of talking about the issues which inspired the Red Hen’s refusal of service to members of the Trump administration, such as the fact that the Department of Health and Human Services lost track of about 1,500 children, or that the detained children are being held in chain-link cages, or that some parents were deported without their children, we’re talking about restaurant service.
Even though the topic has already been displaced twice over by trendier topics–from Trump’s performance at Helsinki to the newest tweets from the twitterverse–Democrats should stop engaging in fights such as that at the Red Hen. Not only is it cheap controversy, turning politics into who can bring their base closer to an rage-fueled aneurysm, the Republicans just seem better at it. They certainly have more experience, from the evangelists of the “moral majority” to outrage-mongers like Milo Yiannopoulos and everyone in between. These actions may rally the Democratic base, but the response, calling for certain places to be politics free, or for decency in politics, or for some good old-fashioned law and order, will rally not only the Republican base, but independents concerned with the deterioration of civility in politics.
But beyond purely political calculations, this will only worsen the state of political division in the U.S. The United States is already the most divided it’s been in recent memory, and effective cross-aisle dialogue is at an all time low. People get their news from sources which agree with their point of view, and leave their media echo chambers only to make fun of a different one. And while it’s easy to point out someone else’s echo chamber, its harder to get them out of it, and harder still to do the same for yourself.
It’s not just digital either. People tend to self-select into more liberal or more conservative communities based on their own political preference, with 28% percent of those polled saying that living in communities where the majority of people shared their own views was particularly important. When people cut themselves off from those who think differently, it become so much easier to focus on the lines that divide instead of the ties that bind. We already have Republican towns and Democratic towns, liberal websites and conservative websites. What’s going to happen when progressives start chasing Republicans out of public spaces like restaurants? It’d be nice if at least some of the few spaces where liberals and conservatives still mingle in some capacity stayed that way, and if restaurants didn’t turn into liberal and conservative enclaves.
There has always been a dream in US political culture, one which is only partially expressed in phrases like e pluribus unum and “bipartisanship,” that the battlelines drawn in the political arena need not extend into daily life, and that, despite radically different policy ideas, both sides could be united in acknowledging the good faith of the other side. Like most of the dreams and promises in America’s history, it has rarely been achieved, and have been actively undermined for years. Yet despite the imperfect steps that have been taken towards this goal, it is still fundamentally a goal. It is still something to hold policy makers and fellow citizens to. It is an acknowledgement that we could do better, and that those who disagree with us are worth knowing and befriending nonetheless. To deny certain spaces to Republicans because of the policies they tolerate is to say that the dream is dead, to give up entirely on even the pretense of political coexistence. Is it worth it?