Stephanie Wilkinson is the owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, VA. That’s the restaurant that refused service to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders last June. Friday, the Washington Post published a piece in which Wilkinson offers her thoughts on the recent spitting incident involving Eric Trump. You’ll be shocked to learn that Wilkinson is for it (or at least willing to defend it) though it takes her a while to admit it.
After recounting what happened to Trump, she writes, “no one in the industry condones the physical assault of a patron.” That seems sensible but we’re only halfway through the piece. Next comes the justification for the new rules:
…at bottom this isn’t about politics. It’s about values, and accountability to values, in business. On a variety of levels, pressure is increasing on companies to articulate and stand by a code. Customers are demonstrating that they want to patronize companies that share their values. Our workforce also increasingly demands that employers establish a set of ethical standards. The once-ubiquitous idea that companies exist purely and solely to provide profit to shareholders is withering away like corn husks in the summer sun.
The rules have shifted. It’s no longer okay to serve sea bass from overfished waters or to allow smoking at the table. It’s not okay to look away from the abusive chef in the kitchen or the handsy guest in the dining room. And it’s not okay to ask employees, partners or management to clock out of their consciences when they clock in to work…
The high-profile clashes rarely involve one citizen fussing at another over the entrees. It’s more often a frustrated person (some of whom are restaurant employees) lashing out at the representatives of an administration that has made its name trashing norms and breaking backs. Not surprising, if you think about it: You can’t call people your enemies by day and expect hospitality from them in the evening.
So when the day comes that the world feels returned to its normal axis, I expect we’ll see fewer highly charged encounters making headlines. In the meantime, the new rules apply. If you’re directly complicit in spreading hate or perpetuating suffering, maybe you should consider dining at home.
Like 10,000 resistance progressives before her, Wilkinson is claiming that Trump grants the left an exception to all the normal rules of social conduct. No one is for assaulting strangers in restaurants, she says, but on the other hand, he’s a Trump so the new rules apply.
It never seems to occur to any of these folks that this same logic could be applied to literally any other group of people with regrettable results. In fact, I’m certain a similar strain of logic is floating through the brains of the idiots responsible for the recent spate of attacks on Jewish people in New York. The attackers would never attack a stranger on the street, but in this special case, the rules have shifted.
As for values, politics often has a lot to do with our values. Pick any hot-button political issue and you could reduce it to a conflict of values. Abortion is a conflict between the value to privacy/self-determination and the value of human life. Most people value both but when they are in conflict, some value one more than the other.
In general, different people will value different things but we all agree those differences don’t make it okay to assault everyone who feels differently in public. Some of the people we disagree with may even have obnoxious values we dislike intensely. Based on the piece above, I’d put Stephanie Wilkinson in that category. Her views are corrosive to the concept of a shared public space that is fundamental to civilization. But the fact that she’s wrong about that is not a green light to harass her in public or spit on her at a restaurant. She shouldn’t be in fear of a public assault if she steps out her door. And that’s the point: Neither should Eric Trump.
There are no new rules. The same old rules of civil conduct in public places still apply to everyone. Anyone asking for special permission to unleash their id in public because of their values needs to think about what happens when everyone decides to do that. Because once you erode that principle of civility, it won’t just be people who dislike Donald Trump who decide to express their values through an assault. It doesn’t appear to me that Stephanie Wilkinson has thought very deeply about that.