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Serve Sarah? In Good Conscience?

June 27, 2018

I could not.  But I’ve been thinking about conscientious actions in circumstances such as that one—of which I, like Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), expect and hope to see an increase in frequency, magnitude, and intensity?  So, what would I do?  And why?

The specific situation, as I’ve read, and what is at steak (so to speak)

The other night Sarah Huckabee Sanders, official, mean-spirited spokesperson for, and defender of, Herr Trompf and other administration sociopaths such as Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller, decided to eat out; but the staff of the restaurant recognized her and voted to refuse service, as a way of making a personal statement against actions by the Trompf administration, such as separation of children from parents for racist gratification and for political and material gain by Republicans.

Separation of children from parents for personal and political gain is as clear and significant a violation of moral comscience and principle as we could ever come upon.  It is an assault upon the fundamental, grounding condition for the health and survival of the person, family, community, and species.  It is an assault upon consciousness, in even its cellular existence in the brain.  It is an assault upon the intimate experience of oneness, and the reverence for being, which we form under conditions of care, which form the necessary condition for imagination, without which we can have neither the feelings nor reason with which we elaborate caring parental relationship into compassion and justice.

The Trompf separation of children from parents is an assault upon their emotional wellbeing that makes a mockery of civility, indeed of any claim to being civilized.

It’s hard to just stand by and take that.

It seems the restaurateur perceived the situation to be a personal encounter with questions of moral principle, incarnate in the representative of a grossly immoral national executive that she considers to be a mortal threat to our constitutional democracy, and to our innate rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Certainly I would see it that way.

Since I may have have to act, upon reflection, what would I do, given the opportunity?

I’m imagining, that as owner of this private restaurant, in this one given instance, I would go to the SHS table, sit down, and identify myself (although, if asked, I would refuse to show my papers).  I would explain to SHS that policies and actions of the administration, of which she is a committed, very public agent, violate my moral conscience so deeply and crucially that I feel that if I serve her as a guest in my restaurant I will be cooperating in those moral wrongs.  “Therefore,” I would tell her, “I would prefer notto accept you as a guest” (unless, as a person, you are, actually, a ‘poor wayfaring stranger,’ in danger of starvation—maybe every inn has turned you away?).  Nevertheless, I would explain, if she were so insensitive as to insist on dining at my table, I would instruct my staff to take her order, and politely serve her our best food.  The meal would be free [hey, I’ve since read that that is exactly what the owner did; she was really quite civilabout the whole thing].  I would not accept her money.  I would hope not to see her again.

My decision and action would be about morality; my target would be the sin, not the sinner, although the sinner would have to face this momentary consequence of her actions.

Trompf and his Republicans have created an ongoing and intensifying, national moral crisis. Now he will push it “for all its worth.”  It’s no skin off his teeth, since he does not perceive moral imperatives, but has said that he considers morality to be a nuisance, at best.  (Nor does he ever show a civil tongue/tweet, good taste, or a sense of humor; he is even more petty and mean-spirited than SHS, and more vicious.)

Nevertheless, his opponents, like our restaurateur, are told to be civil.  We must set the good example for his followers. Civilized commerce might depend upon it.  But what if the present context is an historical moment when civilization depends upon myriad, specific acts of enlightened incivility, by everyday people, in specific situations.

There are societal conditions under which a person’s moral consciousness and judgment, knowing clearly what confronts it, shudders in crisis for the life of the soul.  It cannot avoid action.  As in politics generally, to not act isan action.  Civility is an aspect of morality, but so is justice, and sometimes those come into conflict.  Justice makes the larger claim.  Moral conscience, of a person and of the body politic, must say yes to justice by saying no to the unjust who come before it in the guise of superior civility (and even defense of civilization).

It is too late to ask us to be naively civil towards authoritarians, even those among our fellow citizens.  We know too much. We know our European roots. Hundreds of thousands of us, at the least, now know of the abominable cruelty visited by Columbus upon the island people whom he conquered.  Millions know how that cruelty was extended throughout this hemisphere, including attempted genocide, including the first concentration camps, operated by the U S military against the indigenous people on the plains, and including separation of children from their families.  Hundreds of millions know about the American enslavement of people captured in Africa, including separation of families for sale, and the oppression that their free descendents suffered, and are suffering today.  We know about prejudice and discrimination against Irish immigrants, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese, including internment in concentration camps. We know about the Trompf ban against Muslim immigrants, just now affirmed by the Republican majority on the Supreme Crt.

When we ask Republicans to be civil towards indigenous people, or African American, or Latin American, they ignore us, or mock us.  When we ask them to be civil towards children fleeing poverty and mortal danger, they pity themselves as the true righteous victims of the migrants.

So we must prepare. We need to give a lot of thought to ways in which we can push back, hard, with a just and nonviolent civility.   Odds are, that will include acts of civil protest in the form of nonviolent “civil disobedience.”

So here I want, again, to weave Thoreau into the plot, from his essay on “Resistance to Civil Government,” written during what turned out to be the build-up to the Civil War. In protest against his government’s uncivil, unjust, violent imperialism (a war of choice against Mexico) and its cooperation in the violent practice of slavery, he nonviolently, civilly, withheld cooperation, and accepted going to jail for doing so.  Of citizen acts such as his, and larger ones, in contexts of such clear and gross governmental immorality and violence, he wrote that, as individuals, we must take “action from principle,” thereby perceiving and performing what is right.  By taking such “essentially revolutionary” actions we create the profound change of separating, inourselves, “the diabolical from the divine.” With that comes the clarity and strength to resist.

We must carefully, civilly, justly, take actions that turn this historical American moment into one of moral clarity, performing a division of right from wrong, within ourselves and the body politique, to achieve a triumph of right.  We canachieve moral clarity, and achieve justice with compassion; but millions of us will have to take action in order to do so.

Let’s not allow ourselves to be distracted, even by the civil, from what this is really all about.  Neurologically and socially, existence sets the conditions for essence.  The nourishing, lovingly personal, touch of mother and child precedes civilization, and sets the model.

Trompf and his Republicans pose an existential threat.  Refusal of a meal out is minmally appropriate, and the civil thing to do.

Oh, and “Fuck Trump.” (Which should be a Dem 2018 campaign slogan; surely democratic aversion to T is stronger than was racist aversion to O.)

More thoughts about such civility in America today, by

Edwidge Danticat NYkr

(And again Thoreau: “After the first blush of sin comes its indifference; and from immoral it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and not quite unnecessary to that life which we have made.”)

Editorial Board WaPo

Michelle Goldberg NYT

Adam Gopnik NYkr

Charles P Pierce Esq

Molly Roberts WaPo

Later same day:  Yep.  Let’s go.

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