I think that the discussion about how a restaurant ought to treat Sarah Huckabee Sanders is a good thing. It’s a discussion about what kind of a society, what kind of a community, we intend to be.
Years ago (when I lived in the Washington DC area), I was a regular reader of Miss Manners columns. I have read several of her books with great pleasure and profit. If I were to offer a description, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of reading her column, her approach to life is centered on respect, not rules. The rules are justified, primarily, as a way of determining how to show respect. A few items from her Twitter feed — @RealMissManners –will give a sample of her approach:
- No party invitation should come with an entrance fee (a lesson lost on most adults celebrating birthdays at restaurants by “inviting” guests to pay for their own meals).
- Telling people they look tired is really tiresome. Miss Manners begs everyone to cut it out.
- Miss Manners receives lots of complaints about nose-blowing, but such denunciations are never accompanied by alternative suggestions.
- It is sadly normal for no notice whatever to be taken by employers and professional colleagues of the death of a member of an employee’s immediate family—but this does not make it right.
- The wisest thing to do, whenever someone says, “I knew you wouldn’t mind,” is to run. No good will follow.
I found these items while doing a search for what Miss Manners had written in one of her books, about “the cut direct.” I remembered her discussion (though it has been years since I read it), because at the time it surprised me how severe and extreme she considered a social cut. It took a little imagination (and mental role-playing) for me to realize what the effect would be of looking someone in the face and then not returning their greeting, not shaking their offered hand, and then walking away. It would feel almost like a blow to the face. Miss Manners warned us that this action was to be used – only! – in the most extreme circumstances.
Which brings us to Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. I think that the discussion about how a restaurant ought to treat Sarah Huckabee Sanders is a good thing. It’s a discussion about what kind of a society, what kind of a community, we intend to be.
There are people who consider that when the owner of the restaurant asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave, the owner was committing an offence against our society, tearing at the rules and customs that enable us to get along. I can actually understand that concern. Just imagine what it feels like, to be asked to step out to the restaurant patio and then to be asked to leave the restaurant.
But . . . Sarah Huckabee Sanders was not being asked to leave because of her bad behavior at the table (that happens from time to time, but not in this case). She was not being asked to leave because of her race or her religion – which we have (rightly) decided as a society is an act of discrimination that is (and should be) unlawful for any public establishment.
She was asked to leave because of who she was: the lying spokeswoman of a reprehensible inhabitant of the office of the President of the United States.
Her being asked to leave is an extreme action. The only question is whether that action was too extreme. To get back to Miss Manners. I didn’t find the link to wherever in her books she had discussed “cutting” someone, but I did find this Tweet:
Technically, the “cut direct” is recognized within the manners realm as an extreme weapon. It means that the person is not recognized as being in the world of civilized behavior. If Hitler tries to shake hands with you, you turn your back and walk away.
9:04 PM – 12 Jun 2018
No, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is not Hitler. (Neither – at this point – is Donald J. Trump.) But in our common goal of being a society that is not led by a Hitler, we must face the question: is Sarah Huckabee Sanders a person that we do not recognize as “being in the world of civilized behavior”?
If she is not “in the world of civilized behavior,” then it is important for us – as a society and as a community – to get that point across. Respectfully. Politely. But unapologetically.
Good manners requires it.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.