Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
This week we saw two different ways people sent messages that they passionately oppose the Trump administration’s policies. And both involved prominent Trump officials and restaurants.
On Tuesday night, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, while dining at a Mexican restaurant in Washington D.C., was heckled by protesters over her defense of Donald Trump’s immoral family separations at the border. And on Friday night, according to a tweet by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she was politely asked to leave a Lexington, Virginia, restaurant by its owner because of her work defending Trump and his policies.
Those shocked by these types of protests simply don’t grasp the level of emotion that many who oppose Trump feel. I hear it nightly on my SiriusXM radio show and see it firsthand on social media. Even Trump, in a rare moment of honesty, told his supporters a few weeks ago that those who oppose him are not just angry, but “really, really angry.” Many view Trump as a true threat to America.
So it should come as no surprise that some would also look to hold members of Team Trump responsible as well. After all, Trump administration officials who defend Trump’s bigoted policies, his demonization of minority groups and his lies, are complicit. They freely choose to do the work for him and they shouldn’t be shocked if some – not all –Trump opponents lash out at them.
But let’s make it clear, this is not about asking someone to leave or heckling them simply because they are Republicans or conservatives. That would be wrong. This is about targeting people who are very publicly involved in formulating and defending Trump’s immoral policies.
In fact, the people who heckled Secretary Nielsen didn’t yell: “Get out of here because you’re a Republican.” No, their chants were very specific to Trump’s family separation immigration policy she had been publicly defending just days before, telling Nielsen: “Do you hear the babies crying?” and “If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace.” That is literally speaking truth to power.
Stephanie Wilkinson, the owner of the Red Hen restaurant, who had asked press secretary Sanders to leave, told the media on Saturday that she is “not a huge fan of confrontation,” adding, “I have a business, and I want the business to thrive.” But as Wilkinson rightly noted, “This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”
Wilkinson further explained her approach to handling the situation. She first spoke with her employees, who disagreed with Sanders’ defense of Trump’s discriminatory ban on transgender Americans who want to serve in the military and her recent defense of Trump’s un-American family separation policy.
In response, she then asked Sanders to step outside to the patio and “explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.” Clearly, Sanders doesn’t comply with that standard.
As a progressive, I feel that denying service to a person is instinctively troubling. For many, it may conjure up laws that banned blacks from being served at restaurants before the Civil Rights Act and the current campaign by some on the right to turn away same-sex couples who want professional services for their weddings. Or even a gun range owner who declared that no Muslims were allowed on the premises.
But the situations with Sanders and even Nielsen are not even in the same universe as these discriminatory examples. No one is targeting them for their race, religion or sexual orientation. The backlash is because they have freely chosen to be a part of the Trump administration and have personally defended Trump’s policies. In fact, Nielsen has served up lies while championing Trump’s family separation policies while Sanders even invoked the Bible, telling reporters, “it is very biblical to enforce the law.”
I understand why some people targeted high-profile Trump administration officials, but I am concerned about what will we see in response. Newton’s third law of motion – “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” – applies not just to physics, but perfectly to our hyperpartisan nation. Given our politics today, that law should actually be updated to: “For every action, there’s an overreaction.”
How long until Trump’s fans counter by hanging signs in their stores, restaurants and bars that read “No liberals allowed” or “Trump supporters only.” I bet that would play well in certain red states. And would progressives in blue states respond in kind?
From a legal point of view, a person can be asked to leave a privately owned establishment because of their political views. For example, In April, a judge in New York City dismissed a lawsuit by a Trump supporter who wore a “Make American Great Again” hat to a bar and was asked to leave.
But applying this to the average American divides us even more as a nation and makes it less likely that we can ever return to being the United States of America.
Going forward, it’s likely that we will see more people speak out against Trump officials who publicly defend his cruel policies. The reality is that for many, the stakes are simply too high to remain silent as Trump attempts to radically transform our nation from the United States into Trumpistan.