Vinegar will work just fine

Privileged civility

By Autumn Tolbert, June 29, 2018


By now, we have all seen take after take from journalists and politicians about the events last Friday night at the Red Hen in Lexington, Va., where White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the restaurant after the owner and the staff decided they did not want to serve her. This came just days after Sanders explained that the Bible supported separating children from their parents at the border and joined Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen at a press conference where the latter lied to the American people about the administration’s decision to house thousands of children in camps and other detainment facilities. Nielsen herself was run out of a D.C. Mexican restaurant earlier in the week by protestors, but most of the talk of these events centers around Sanders, who has become a champion for those on the right after constantly dishing out lies and insults to the White House press corps.

For every column or tweet praising the staff of the Red Hen for refusing to serve a lying member of Trump’s inner circle, there are a chorus of those who, not coincidentally, are overwhelmingly older, white and male, calling for decorum, civility and respect. These are the anthems of the privileged. These are the anthems of those who have nothing to lose. Or at least they believe they have nothing to lose. They’ll see. Just as the soybean farmers, many of them Trump supporters, learned this week that his trade-related tantrums have real-life impact.

But until they do find themselves on the receiving end of one of Trump’s cruel or just plain stupid policies, they’ll continue to be tone police and wag their fingers at those who speak up. They’ll make false equivalencies between the Masterpiece cake case and the Sanders incident (as others have pointed out, sexual orientation is often a protected class, being a liar is not). They’ll quote their grandmothers and tell us we can catch more flies with honey than we can with vinegar. They’ll tell us to be patient, to not be so direct and to just vote in November and this will all be fine. Well, we have seen the results of what happened when we were nice and patient while Trump’s GOP stole a Supreme Court seat.

We’ve tried facts. We ran Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a policy wonk, who explained in the debates how bad it would be if we elected Trump. Members of his cult, ignoring reality, demand the families seeking asylum go through some simple, mythical immigration process to “do it the right way.” Any news critical of Trump, his policies, or his family is “fake news.”

We’ve tried emotion. Immigrants have told their stories of loss, fear and escape. Mothers who have lost their sons to police violence have cried and shown pictures of their fatherless grandchildren. Gold Star families have described the pain of losing a child to war only to find out that the very country their child died fighting for would ban them from entering as refugees. Turns out, the only people who gain any sympathy from the cult of Trump are fellow Trumpers.

We’ve tried religion. Fighting fire with fire. The evangelical Trump supporters have moved on from picking and choosing their favorite parts of Leviticus to picking and choosing their favorite parts of Paul’s Letters to the Romans. All this has me beginning to think the only required reading in the Huckabee household were daddy’s books.

It seems we’ve tried it all, but last week a group of Democratic Socialists of America in D.C. tried something else. After Neilsen had the audacity or ignorance to go eat at a Mexican restaurant, the DSA went into the restaurant and up to her table to call her out. Guess what? The next day, a new executive order was prepared by Nielsen and presented to Trump. I’m not saying the protesters were the only cause, but I’d be surprised if Nielsen wasn’t shaken by the incident. Of course, the new executive order is still terrible, but it seems like the optics of the incident may have hit home. We can only hope that Sanders is also realizing that the good citizens of this country aren’t going to let her keep shoveling whatever she wants at our feet and expect us to politely nod and ask for more. We can hope that Trump will be left standing alone with his cruelty.

Of all the advice the privileged give about civility, I can most appreciate the advice about catching more flies with honey. It is good advice. It just isn’t the right advice for right now. We are way past the point of being civil to those who wake up every morning and choose to go to work to further the dangerous and deeply immoral agenda of this administration. We are way past the point of being civil to the members of Congress who prop it up through both their action and their inaction. We aren’t out to catch any flies. We are out to fight fascists. For that task, vinegar will work just fine.

Photograph of The Red Hen (modified) in Lexington, Virginia:

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