Two weekends ago, after joining her husband and a handful of friends at the 26-seat Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the establishment. The following Monday, after Sanders tweeted a statement regarding the incident in response to media inquiries, the story went viral.
Red Hen co-owner Stephanie Wilkinson was at home when she received a call from the chef. Staff had recognized Sanders when she arrived late and were huddled in the kitchen discussing her presence. The venue’s gay service staff was upset, objecting to the Trump administration’s opposition to transgender personnel serving in the military.
Wilkinson hurried to the restaurant, in a town of 7,000 located 200 miles to the south of D.C., assessed the situation and polled her staff. They voted to ask Sanders to leave. The tiny dining room prompted the restaurateur to request the group follow her to an outdoor area, where she politely asked Sanders to leave. Sanders indicated she would comply, absent complaint or fuss. Despite the request being limited to Sanders, the entire party decided to depart.
The reaction on social media was both rapid and repulsive – on both sides.
There were those on the right who condemned the imbroglio as if children and pets were being beheaded, and there were those on the left who sounded as if they thought that might actually be a good idea. That is, if the kids and animals were Republicans or, more precisely, Trump administration officials.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters weighed in, sounding a call just this side of advocating White House personnel be confronted at gas stations when refueling their cars or shamed and shunned when seen shopping.
Her public exhortation, quickly spreading like, well, a gasoline fire, prompted David Axelrod, former Obama administration official, to tweet, “Couldn’t disagree more with Maxine Waters. … Rousting Cabinet members from restaurants is an empty and, ultimately, counter-productive gesture that won’t change a thing.”
That’s the lesson, here, actually.
Only a few months ago cultural historians lamented the lack of social interaction by opposing sides in political Washington. We’re far beyond such quaint regrets, moving to community combat while consuming cocktails.
Has Trump’s coarseness and insensitivities, and indeed some policies, contributed to creating this situation? Absolutely. Are some politically frustrated Democrats adopting the notion it’s time to drop behind the sandbags? Absolutely again.
This “both-sides-do-it” attitude only alienates those outside virtue-signaling ideological cocoons regardless of which side you’re on.
There is an irony here for D.C. residents and the LGBT community. While federal anti-discrimination laws, and those in Virginia, don’t address what occurred at the Red Hen, the D.C. human rights law would seem to. Although not tested through court complaint, District law prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of political affiliation or ideology. If not a technical violation, it would be counter to the spirit of the law were the refusal of service to have happened here.
Instructive are the words of local Cork Wine Bar co-owner Diane Gross, telling the Washington Post last week that the Logan Circle establishment “has hosted prominent figures ‘of various political persuasions’ and would never ask a customer to leave unless they were being disruptive.”
Gross, and co-owner husband Khalid Pitts, are no GOP sympathizers. They have filed a some-say-frivolous-publicity-stunt-but-some-say-has-legal-merit lawsuit alleging that Trump’s ownership of his downtown namesake hotel is unfair competition due those hoping to curry presidential favor, thereby harming their business.
“I think the bottom line is that we’re in the hospitality industry, and we need to be hospitable,” Gross said. “That’s why we do this, to welcome people into our restaurants or hotels or other hospitality establishments and provide folks with the same level of service regardless of who they are or what their political affiliation is or their background or whatever.”
She gets the last word on this.