Serving Sarah Huckabee Sanders

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the Lexington, Virginia Red Hen because of her work with the Trump administration.  The owner of the small restaurant in a town overwhelmingly opposed to President Trump privately explained to Sanders that it must uphold certain standards, “such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.”  Sanders tweeted that the restaurant’s decision spoke more about its uncivil values than her own, and Trump, horribly and childishly, blasted the restaurant as “dirty.”  Whether kicking a press secretary out of a restaurant actually upholds the Red Hen’s standards encompasses both philosophical and tactical questions.  I want to touch upon a few aspects of these questions, and also to contextualize this issue with other current debates involving free speech values and property rights and liberty interests of private businesses.

First, the Red Hen has the right to deny Sanders service.  There are good arguments that businesses should have a lot more rights than they do in terms of how they manage their private contractual arrangements.  Legally, “political opinion” is not protected against discrimination by most states’ public accommodations laws (unlike, as examples, race, religion, and sexual orientation).  Political affiliation is not deemed as protected a class under civil rights laws perhaps because there would be serious free speech values compromised (if not actual First Amendment associational rights) when a business is forced to accommodate speakers who engage in speech and conduct to which the business virulently objects.

That said, I think the restaurant should have served her.  If Donald Trump wanted to take a law school class from me, I would teach him. Indeed, I would happily teach him.  He could learn something about our constitutional structure and the nature of our liberties as against the government.  I would also be edified by listening to his concerns in a calm, rational environment.  If Sanders were injured and needed a doctor, that doctor would operate on her. Both philosophically and tactically, I think we should all just do our jobs, in a sense.  Siphoning people off into political silos, when eating, working, and playing, makes Sanders more hardened in her views, not less. It makes the word a more hostile place, not a better place.

Reasonable minds can disagree on this point.  Some might say that when politicians cross a line into criminal or grossly inhumane behavior, we must oppose (#resist) them, even just symbolically, by serving them a heaping plate of insult and indignity instead of dinner.  Would I happily teach Joseph Goebbels criminal procedure?  Ignoring the almost overwhemingly dramatic differences between the Nazis and the Trump administration, and accepting only that this administration is too similar for comfort, my answer is yes, although I would be even more grateful for blind grading norms.  Philosophically, I believe in the maintenance of certain ideals over and above the exigencies of any pressing situation.  Teaching the Fourth Amendment gives one great perspective on the value of principles, over, say, safety and law enforcement, even when dangerous crime is at issue.  Tactically, I believe we have much more to gain than to lose by recognizing the humanity in our political enemies, even if they do not recognize our own.

Many comparisons have been made to Masterpiece Cakeshop, where the Supreme Court recently held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission displayed religious animus and thus cannot force a baker to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.  The Red Hen situation differs from Masterpiece Cakeshop on several axes. First, sexual orientation is a status entitled to civil rights protection under Colorado public accommodations laws, so denying service to gay people is not legal, whereas denying service to, say, people who love the Insane Clown Posse is.  On the other hand, Jack Phillips would not turn away gay couples from purchasing everything at his bakery.  His refusal to create a custom-made cake for a wedding implicates the First Amendment far more than a blanket denial of service at a restaurant, given the fact that a wedding cake (may, although perhaps not) involves artistry and expressive conduct.  I fully support ensuring that people apply their own principles consistently, but trying to expose hypocrisy by comparing the two situations is a complicated task, because the Red Hen case is both an easier and a harder case for tolerating the denial of service.

Ultimately, the issue comes down to what “honesty, and compassion, and cooperation” mean.  I believe they mean allowing people to deny service if they wish, but arguing that this decision is not the best way to show either compassion or cooperation.  And if any member of the Trump administration wishes to sit in on one of my classes, please contact me immediately.  I’d like to discuss the logistics without delay, and perhaps give you a few fun reading assignments in advance (materials reflecting both sides of any issue, of course).

[Edit:  I want to add that I have been denied service in two different restaurants because of my race, once in America and once abroad.  Both situations were fairly unambiguous.  Both were quite degrading.  I will never forget either (the one abroad was much more shocking, although totally legal in that country), and I have the privilege of not worrying about that situation on a daily basis — although, I think sometimes a privileged position should be used to uphold greater principles, not to allow oneself to be guilted into abandoning those principles for lack of personal experience.]


2 thoughts on “Serving Sarah Huckabee Sanders”

  1. Authentic and interesting post , but , one should go deeper with moral judgment . And two points related as such , to each other :

    First , by denying her service there , he was actually , not only discriminating her , but also , denying her free speech ( at least indirectly ) . This is because , of certain pressure or coercion exercised on her in fact , not to support or work with trump. This amounts to denial of political stance , and the latter , surly has to do with : exercising free speech .

    One may argue , not great deal !! One isolated case , she personally , can handle it of course . But , another parameter is involved here , let me just cite , a great philosopher ( Jean-Paul Sartre 1946 , ” Existentialism Is a Humanism ” ) here :

    ” Or if, to take a more personal case, I decide to marry and to have children, even though this decision proceeds simply from my situation, from my passion or my desire, I am thereby committing not only myself, but humanity as a whole, to the practice of monogamy. I am thus responsible for myself and for all men, and I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him to be. In fashioning myself I fashion man. ”

    End of quotation :

    That is to say, that if that owner of that restaurant , would be asked , whether every person should resist Trump , in such manner that has been done or exercised by him , surly he would reply , that : Yes indeed !! That wasn’t probably his private right in his view , but rather , Universal commitment , at least , in the eyes of every person opposing Trump. That is to say , that if each American , with certain political stance , would behave like that , the public domain , would be rendered hell on earth .

    This is wrong . Anonymity , and impartiality must be kept free from such discrimination . And such occurrences , already take place all over the US .

    So , that owner of that restaurant , surly was acting in aggravated Universal manner , while knowing that :

    She is highly ranked official in the service of Trump , and that : Surly , it would create sort of ” Tsunami ” or earthquake in the media right after .

    To : ” Existentialism Is a Humanism ” in that link :



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