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Ask A Native New Yorker: Is It Ethical To Shun Trump Officials?

Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was denied service at a restaurant in Virginia over the weekend.
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Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was denied service at a restaurant in Virginia over the weekend. MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.

This week's question is about how to treat people who work for President Trump.

Dear Jake,

I remember a column from 2016 where you wrote that people shouldn’t scream at Ivanka Trump when they see her in person. You argued that her and Jared were the closest things we had to liberal New Yorkers in the president’s inner circle, that she cared about making a difference on positive issues like family leave, and that because she had kids she might be a moderating influence if the president were ever considering a nuclear war. I wonder how your thinking on this topic has evolved over the past 20 months—in light of this past week’s stories about presidential advisors and cabinet members getting hounded or tossed from restaurants, do you still think it’s wrong to yell at people working for the Trump administration?

Sincerely,

Feeling Uncivil on the Upper West Side

A native New Yorker responds...

Dear F.U.,

Quite a lot has changed since I wrote that last column, and as the old expression goes, “when the facts change, I change my mind—what do you do, sir?” In the intervening months, we have seen many Trump decisions that might make a normal person want to scream at someone—his "Muslim ban," for instance, or his defense of the neo-nazis in Charlottesville, or his willful and obscenely immoral policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border. That last one especially seems to have pushed many of my acquaintances into a black hole of outrage and despair that cannot be climbed out of with the normal channels of voting in midterm elections, donating money to opposition politicians, and attending the protest marches. Something more must be done.

My hope that Ivanka or anyone else would be a moderating influence has dwindled as I've witnessed these developments, and I am officially reversing my previous opinion: you should now do whatever it takes to oppose this regime. When the government is literally seizing children and placing them in internment camps, we have reached a breaking point where normal rules of civility no longer apply. Back in 1964, after an awful summer where Civil Rights workers were murdered advocating for equal rights down south, many Americans felt like we had reached a similar point of rupture. In December of that year, activist Mario Savio perfectly encapsulated this feeling in a famous speech at the University of Berkeley:

There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

Of course, many of our fellow citizens reached this point a long time ago. President Trump has provided so many occasions that would make any thoughtful person wretch: actively destroying the environment through withdrawal from the Paris Accords, his obsequious toadying to Russia while abandoning our traditional allies, standing by Roy Moore even after he was accused of serial sexual misconduct, or undermining the Special Counsel's investigation into the ever-expanding maelstrom of corruption that surrounds him—to name but a few. A credible argument could be made that all of this hellscape was present in embryonic form when he first descended that gold escalator at Trump Tower, and in his announcement speech said of immigrants, "They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists."

I commend you if you had that foresight—those of us that didn't were probably blinded by racial, national, or economic privilege to what in hindsight were deafeningly loud warning alarms. What to do now? Looking back again in history, the normal response to an oppressive and abusive system of governance is civil disobedience; popular techniques have included boycotts, sit-ins, and refusing to pay taxes. Some are easier than others—yesterday some protesters blocked the entrance to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office and managed to shut it down. Theirs is a brave example.

If you don't have the physical courage or the free time to endure a likely arrest, I think a boycott is the next best option. You're likely already not sleeping at Trump Hotels—the rooms are probably sold out to foreign governments looking to buy influence with the president—but boycotts don't always have to be economic. Shunning, booing, and refusing to serve members of the Trump administration are also legitimate forms of civil disobedience. These people have engineered and participated in the creation of terrible, racist, unjust policies, and have more than earned the contempt of anyone who believes in justice.

Some very august people have argued that incivility is a slippery slope, and pretty soon no one on the right or left will be able to eat a meal in peace. So be it. Perhaps eating out during a national emergency is a privilege that no one deserves. And if booing Stephen Miller, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kirstjen Nielsen, Ivanka Trump, or Jared Kushner galvanizes the right to vote or harass liberals online, so be it—the right was already galvanized, and the chance of productive conversation between someone who supports family internment camps and someone who opposes them was already near-zero.

Calling for civility is almost always an endorsement of the status quo; the idea being that if perhaps both sides would just be more polite, they could meet somewhere in the middle. But there is no middle ground between racist fascism and liberal democracy; these ideas are irreconcilable and the victory of one necessarily entails the complete rejection of the other. To insist on civility in defense of barbarism is nonsensical. Now is the time to stand up.

In solidarity,

Jake

N.B.: In New York City, political affiliation is not a protected class, so restaurants may legally toss someone whose politics they find loathsome. For instance, a West Village bar was legally allowed to refuse service to a man wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat. Actually working for the administration is much worse than wearing a hat.

Ask a Native New Yorker anything via email. Anonymity is assured.

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