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Dispatches: Finding Equal Ground in Political Discourse

News and notes from Pacific Standard staff and contributors.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders conducts a White House daily news briefing on June 14th, 2018.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders conducts a White House daily news briefing on June 14th, 2018.

What's acceptable in political discourse under the presidency of Donald Trump seems to change by the minute. Boundaries have been pushed and formerly tightly held mores of decorum can be tossed aside at a moment's notice. This doesn't just apply to Trump and his allies, but also to members of the political left—e.g. the Bernie Bros. These changes in discussion aren't always good and they aren't always bad—no matter what the establishment might say—but one thing is clear: When we talk about what's acceptable and what's not in public political discourse we should ensure that we don't conflate the issues.

This is important to consider in light of a few recent and highly publicized incidents involving members of the Trump administration and their dining habits. Early last week, White House adviser Stephen Miller and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen were shouted down by protesters in separate incidents at two Mexican restaurants—Miller's in Washington, D.C., and Nielsen's in New York City. A few days later, White House Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders was denied service at a Lexington, Virginia, restaurant because, after a vote, the staff decided they did not want to serve her based on the fact that she works in the Trump administration. The expected political handwringing about what these events meant for a polarized America came from both the right and the left, with Maxine Waters' vociferous support of disruptive protests gaining particular notoriety.Pacific Standard senior staff writer Tom Jacobs interviewed an expert who cast doubt on the effectiveness of these public shaming ploys as a means of advocating for policy change.

However, these incidents don't really have much in common, other than the fact that they all occurred in places where people were eating food. Sanders being refused service at a restaurant based on her political beliefs and professional actions is a very different issue than protesters exercising their First Amendment rights through vocal protest of Miller and Nielsen. Without advocating for either position, it's important to see how they should be discussed as entirely separate queries, and not—as they have been—as parts of one larger problem of political actors being allowed to "eat in peace" or allowing all people to express their political beliefs, even if that opens potentially troubling realities where people are refused service for any number of arbitrary reasons.

Whichever side of the issue you land on, it's essential that when we have these discussions we do so on equal ground, otherwise we are—once again—talking past each other, which is, perhaps, the greatest ongoing danger to productive political discourse.

This dispatch originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive a print magazine subscription, early access to feature stories, and access to an ad-free version of