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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Berry Craig
Berry Craig of Mayfield is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community College in Paducah and an author of five books on the Civil War in Kentucky. The last one, published by the University Press of Kentucky, is Kentucky’s Rebel Press: Pro-Confederate Media in the Civil War. His critically-acclaimed Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase, also from the University Press, has been reprinted in paperback.
  • This is a nuanced issue but I come down on the side of the Red Hen owner because, while I actually agree with your wife and clergy friend that you created a martyr with your tirade at the time, these are radically different times.

    I still sting as well from the 1980 election—to me the landing strip outside Washington, D.C. remains National Airport. But Reagan’s objectionable policies stayed inside our institutional norms.

    To review: Trump is singling out an ethnic group for persecution with lies about its members bringing a crime wave and damaging the economy; when people protested police killings of unarmed members of another ethnic group, he (cleverly) wrapped himself in the flag and rallied support for considering them unAmerican; when Heather Heyer was assassinated in Charlottesville for peacefully protesting the brand of bigot that murdered her, Trump maintained that all sides were to blame; Trump has opposed the nation’s military in singling out transgender people for persecution; he’s firing, harassing, and undermining (including with his precedents for pardons) every law enforcement official, position, and institution in a position to carry out a legitimate investigation of him; he’s using the bully pulpit to drive down the stock prices of companies that he gets offended by; his party’s leadership acquiesces, to the point of denying the African-American president a hearing on his legitimate choice for the Supreme Court.

    Observers of totalitarian states warn that this is how it starts.

    Obama admonished us, “don’t boo, vote.” And as Donna Brazil points out in her book on the 2016 election, part of what got into this mess is that 90 million people didn’t vote.

    But here we are, and I fear normalization of the outrages listed in the long paragraph above. I believe it calls for more than smiling at one of the chief offenders while serving her food and mentioning that you disagree with her policies. She needs to feel some heat from the people who pay her salary, for the horrors being inflicted on those out of power. So do Mitch and Elaine walking out of a rally, and Kirstjen Nielsen walking into a Mexican restaurant, and Scot Pruitt flying on a plane.

    I started by saying this is nuanced. I think Robert De Niro did enormous harm with his obscene anti-Trump rant at the Academy Awards. Better he would have said simply, register and vote in November. But the success of the Tea Party, and on the other side last summer’s opposition to killing the Affordable Care Act and gun violence protests, show there also needs to be a public and activist side to The Resistance.

    I’d like to pause for a couple of side commendations on this. One is the restaurant owner’s judgment and decency in consulting with her employees. The other is Sanders’ quick and polite agreement to leave the restaurant. Although Sanders and her boss quickly undermined that by laughably calling for civility (see paragraph 3 above.)

    To sum this up in another current vernacular: how’s that kill-them-with-kindness, when-they-go-low-we-go-high thing workin’ out for ya?

    • I understand (the disagreement with my opinion). I am a poor student of behaving kindly toward hateful people. Furthermore, sometimes in-your-face action or even force is required.
      It is in this particular situation that to have behaved differently would have had better public outcome.
      Ideally, at the end of the meal the restaurant owner would have introduced SHS and party to the other patrons, then proceeded to explain to SHS & troupe that they had just been fed and cared for by a group of people they are actively harming. The Red Hen workers are constantly belittled, called child molesters and rapists, and laws allowing businesses to discriminate against those different from themselves would keep their entourage from having been served.
      Fortunately, for you and your party, Press Secretary Sanders, our staff believes that in the United States each
      person has a alienable right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, which tonight included a good meal for you. We
      ask that our government officials honor their pledge to uphold the constitution just as scrupulously as the staff of
      Red Hen does.”
      Then issue a press release with photos.

  • I agree with Paul Wesslund below. The time for civility or reaching across the aisle, or trying to understand Trumpista’s angst is long past. Now is the time to be holding them accountable. Whether we’re uncivil or accommodating with them, they will continue to support our latter day version of Caligula. Nothing we can think to do is going to win them over and anything we do that’s not civil isn’t going to alienate our base.

    Today’s “civility” debate brings to mind an old joke: Two men are facing a Nazi firing squad. The first man is offered a blindfold & says “Shove that blindfold up your Nazi ass!” The 2nd man whispers to the first, “Murray, don’t make trouble!”

  • I totally agree with the article. The tactics as proposed by Maxine Waters and abusing public officials in restaurants, etc. do damage to our cause and diminish us in the eyes of the public. The examples of Mandela and the civil rights icons are the examples to follow. Joe Welch destroyed Sen Joseph McCarthy not with screams and shouts but with a simple statement “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?” McCarthy’s popularity vanished overnight. For those who are professing Christians, the example of our Lord and his words as recorded Matt. 5:43-45 should guide our decision in this area as well. Love, respect, decency, and dignity has always prevailed and always will – so let us practice those values so our cause can prevail.

  • Without revealing my own thoughts right now, I have a few questions for the author and the commenters:

    1. Is there a difference between being civil/uncivil in a one-on-one encounter and being civil/uncivil in a corporate setting?
    2. For those who disagree with the actions of the Red Hen manager, is using non-violent civil disobedience also out of bounds? Doing things like blocking traffic will also make people mad at you, I would think.
    3. And finally, for persons on both sides of the discussion: At what point do we move from our current position (whatever it is) to a more confrontational position? Never? Now? Or when, and on what basis?

    I don’t think these are idle questions. Each of us, I think, is going to have to answer them for ourselves … and I suspect, sooner rather than later.

  • While I share your disgust at Trump and his gang, I do disagree with your support of the Red Hen owner. Yes, these are “radically different times” as you say, but one of the things that makes them radically different is our growing inability to talk with each other–or to even express rational kindness without being suspected of disloyalty to “our tribe.”

    Melinda Craig was correct in her suggestion that the Red Hen’s owner might have made a morally and politically more significant point by serving Sanders and then pointing out the difference between the Trumpians and people of good will on this very matter.

    Gandhi was successful in his quest, as was MLK (for the most part) in his. Short term anger brings some immediate emotional relief (I know as I have engaged in such) but almost no longer term benefits. It reduces us to the level of those we most cordially dislike.