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Letting the viper play the victim

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tephanie Wilkinson, the Lexington, Va., café owner who showed Sarah Huckabee Sanders the door, reminded me of a preacher who once knocked on our door.

Like Sanders, he was of the Jesus-loves-me-but-He-can’t-stand-you persuasion.

He showed up, uninvited, in November, 1980. It was right after Ronald Reagan was elected president with a big boost from religious bigots like this guy.

My wife, Melinda, and I, union-card-carrying, left-leaning Democrats, voted for President Carter. It was the late autumn of our discontent.

Anyway, the pastor was working our street, maybe taking a victory lap, and inviting people to his all-white, Moral Majority-allied church.

He pitched his right-wing, Reaganite “Christian values” at me. I clouded up and rained all over him, as we say in western Kentucky. “My idea of hell would be spending eternity with people like you,” I wrapped up.

I was proud of myself. “Maybe next time, he’ll think twice about stopping at a stranger’s house and trotting out his Jerry Falwell line,” I triumphantly suggested to Melinda, a far more faithful Presbyterian than I am.

“You made a big mistake,” she admonished, shaking her head. “Call Jim Nash and see what he says.”

She meant the liberal Presbyterian minister who married us nearly two years before. I dialed him up, expecting vindication. I was crestfallen.

“You made a martyr for the Lord,” he chuckled. “You put a star in his crown.”

He was right; I had.

I fear Wilkinson did likewise with Sanders, another one of those evangelicals who sizzle with self-righteousness and act like “GOP” stands for “God’s Own Party.”

Don’t get me wrong. We greatly admire Wilkinson’s chutzpahAccording to The Washington Post, she said she “knew and believed that Sarah Huckabee Sanders worked in the service of an ‘inhumane and unethical’ administration. That she publicly defended the president’s cruelest policies, and that that could not stand.”

Melinda and I believe likewise. (Hillary-for-President magnets cling resolutely to our fridge.)

Wilkinson told the Post’s Avi Selk and Sarah Murray that several of her staffers at the Red Hen restaurant are gay. The reporters quoted her: “They knew Sanders had defended Trump’s desire to bar transgender people from the military. This month, they had all watched her evade questions and defend a Trump policy that caused migrant children to be separated from their parents.”

Wilkinson confessed, “I’m not a huge fan of confrontation. I have a business, and I want the business to thrive. This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”

Having decided to elevate her principles over her profits, she assembled her staff and asked them what they wanted her to do. “I can ask her to leave. They said ‘yes.’”

Despite the predictable vein-popping outrage from the Dissembler-in-Chief, his truth-torturing surrogate, and the rest of Trump Nation, Wilkinson isn’t backing down. “I would have done the same thing again,” she confided in Selk and Murray. “We just felt there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions. This appeared to be one.”

(Wilkinson has also collected her share of kudos for not feeding Sanders, who came with her husband and others.)

Melinda and I are in Wilkinson’s corner. But by asking Sanders to leave, however politely, she unwittingly enabled the viper to play the victim.

Sanders is among the most shameless of Trump courtiers. She’s still what GOP consultant and Never-Trumper Rick Wilson labeled her last year: “a serial, congenital liar” who is ever-eager to defend her lying boss’s “latest outrages.”

I’d add that Sanders is a party hack, a hypocrite, and a homophobe, to boot.

Melinda, my spouse of going on 40 years, agrees with me and—in the spirit of Presbyterian ecumenism—with the Republican Wilson’s take on Trump’s top flack.

“I’d have served her anyway,” Melinda said. I harrumphed, but had to agree.

“Kill ‘em with kindness,” my Presbyterian grandmother, God rest her soul, admonished her grandkids. Michelle Obama put it another way, “When they go low, we go high.”

Melinda said if she owned the eatery, she’d have dispatched her wait staff to serve Sanders and her party with a double-dose of the usual courtesy.

After the press secretary finished eating, Melinda added, she’d have presented Sanders the bill herself.

“Then I would have smiled and said, ‘Everybody is welcome in my restaurant. While you seem to be okay with business owners who refuse to serve LGBT customers on religious grounds, I’m a Presbyterian. My faith tells me that we are all God’s children and that we should serve everybody with the kindness and respect we’ve just shown to you, despite our differences.’”

Anyway, we might be passing through Lexington on travels from our old Kentucky home this fall. If we do, we plan to stop for a bite at the Red Hen. I’ve gotta have a tee shirt, too.


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