With Trump, the gloves are off
After services on a chilly and rainy Sunday in North Carolina, the citizens of Greensboro awoke to a Monday that broke a little warmer, and although the rain had stopped it was overcast, windy, and gloomy, the streets still wet in places from the Sunday showers. The bell over the door of the small lunch counter tinkled and the waitress looked up to welcome the new customers when she stopped dead in her tracks. On Monday, February 1, 1960 - out of the chilly, overcast and windy Greensboro streets - stepped not a regular customer, but four nervous young black men, Ezell Blair, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond, heading straight for the counter.
She tried to head them off, but there they were, seated in a tentative but quiet row. Making this particular lunch hour even more surreal, they were accompanied by news photographers, clicking away – the grainy black and white photos later to be seen around the country – and the world.
Little did anyone - the owners, staff, the other patrons nor the four brave men themselves - realize the gravity of what took place there that day, nor the lasting ramifications for American law and civil rights.
This was the first of a series of sit-ins at diners and lunch counters in the south, which led to the desegregation of the F. W. Woolworth lunch counter on July 25, 1960, and ultimately to the Title II “Public Accommodations” Sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title II reads as follows:
SEC 201. (a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.
SEC. 203. No person shall (a) withhold, deny, or attempt to withhold or deny, or deprive or attempt to deprive, any person of any right or privilege secured by section 201 or 202, or (b) intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate (emphasis added any person with the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by section 201…
No one is saying Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, or Senior Presidential Adviser Steve Miller, or Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielson, or Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi are in any class protected by Title II, nor that any of those criteria were used in the decisions of various members of the citizenry to yell, chant, shame, require their departure, or otherwise “intimidate” them at public accommodations- so technically, any discussion of a relationship between Trump’s minions and Title II is moot.
But as an old hippy who was in the forefront of the fight to get the Civil Rights Act passed and implemented, I know full well that laws have not just letters to enforce, but spirits to be observed.
The spirit of Title II was that everyone – “All persons” – should have “full and equal” access to public accommodations, the definition of which includes private restaurants, theaters and any other private businesses “open to the public” – including bakeries, I might add.
That also includes the Red Hen. By the way, there are two Red Hens, one in D.C., often misidentified as the site of the Sanders debacle and another – the real subject of the kafuffle – in Lexington, Virginia. Ironically, the Red Hen in D.C. cannot, by law, do what the Red Hen in Virginia did simply due to the fact that they are located in D.C., a federal district, and subject to the federal “D.C. Human Rights Act”. That Act prohibits discrimination by “Political affiliation” as well as 19 other protected classes, including those of Title II.
My question is: have the recent isolated incidents of admitted incivility on the part of protesters of Sarah and friends violated the spirit of Title II?
I must admit that I have been torn. Of course, I’m in favor of a “civil” society and spent my life in non-violent protest of the “incivility” of war and discrimination in all its iterations. If it’s about violence, or if it’s an “ism” with a prefix of race, or sex, or age – I’m there.
And I would hate to see us devolve into Democratic and Republican restaurants and businesses.
I know that if I was in a restaurant speaking openly about my feelings about the Trump administration, and the anti-Trump actions I have taken, and if the owner and staff politely asked me to leave because of it, I would be appalled.
But the objections voiced by the various “victims” do not focus on “rights”, or equal access, but rather on “civility”. If you want to see the antonyms of “civil” behavior in action - disrespectful, surly, boorish, rude – watch any Sanders press briefing. Despite her tweeted assertion that she always treats those with whom she disagrees “respectfully”, her sullen, condescending, dismissive, and rude behavior toward the professionals in the room – those she is charged with informing - is the stuff of SNL.
Of course, in any discussion of GOP incivility, the elephant in the room is the man at the top. Trump sets the tone: his calls for violence against protesters are many and legend. His nick-naming and name calling are aimed at shaming and embarrassing his opponents. His vicious attacks on American institutions and citizens, which includes actors, judges, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, Gold Star parents, venerated law enforcement agencies, and the free press, define incivility.
And the most uncivil act by Trump et.al. yet? The heartless, traumatic, and cruel practice of jailing children, rent from their parent’s arms, left to fend for themselves in ways they cannot possibly do – inflicting lifelong mental and emotional scars - for purely political purposes.
When they crossed that line, the gloves came off, and the normally passive left wing felt they needed to act. November is too far away. They had to do something to register their disgust and vent their displeasure to those who choose – every day – to carry Trump’s water and to lie for him.
On reflection, it’s clear that the protections of Title II are not available to Sarah and friends - as they became for the Greensboro Four - nor should they be, under either the letter or the spirit of the law. Neither Sarah, nor Steve, nor Kirstjen, nor Pam are entitled to protections from the protests of citizens alarmed by their chosen actions, taken while in their respective offices in this administration. They are being “intimidated” not for who and what they are – but for what they have said and done. The protests are about accountability, not victimhood.
As was said about the gay couple trying to buy a wedding cake from a homophobe – they can always go somewhere else.