A red hen: The namesake of the restaurant in Lexington, Virginia that's at the center of a debate on civility.

A red hen: The namesake of the restaurant in Lexington, Virginia that's at the center of a debate on civility.

Last week, White House adviser Stephen Miller was called a “fascist” when he visited a Mexican restaurant in Washington.

Protests and chants also erupted when Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited another Mexican restaurant in the city.

And over the weekend, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a small restaurant in Lexington, Virginia.

These incidents have led to a debate about civility and public discourse.

But why now? Many were quick to point out that Miller, Nielsen and Sanders all promote the policies of their boss, President Trump, who hasn’t always been civil in public statements. Representative Maxine Walters, D-Calif., argues that White House staffers have forfeited their right to civil treatment by choosing to align with President Trump. At a recent protest in Los Angeles, she urged protestors to continue resisting:

Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.

Others see an alarming cultural trend: the decline of basic manners in America. President Trump, as well as various conservatives, has expressed outrage over the way the White House staffers are treated during their “off” hours. The Washington Post’s editorial board said the staffers should be allowed to eat in peace.

Ms. Huckabee, and Ms. Nielsen and Mr. Miller, too, should be allowed to eat dinner in peace. Those who are insisting that we are in a special moment justifying incivility should think for a moment how many Americans might find their own special moment. How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families? Down that road lies a world in which only the most zealous sign up for public service. That benefits no one.

While in The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg said this isn’t an issue with civility at all.

Whether or not you think public shaming should be happening, it’s important to understand why it’s happening. It’s less a result of a breakdown in civility than a breakdown of democracy. Though it’s tiresome to repeat it, Donald Trump eked out his minority victory with help from a hostile foreign power. He has ruled exclusively for his vengeful supporters, who love the way he terrifies, outrages and humiliates their fellow citizens.

What’s the relationship between civility and politics, and where do we draw the line? We’ll discuss.

Text by Kathryn Fink, show produced by Bianca Martin and Paige Osburn.


  • Christine Fair Associate professor, Georgetown University's Security Studies program; @CChristineFair
  • Todd Gitlin Former student protest leader; professor, journalism and sociology and Chair of Communications, Columbia University; @toddgitlin
  • Carolyn Lukensmeyer Executive director, National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD)
  • Steven Clemons Editor-at-large, The Atlantic @SCClemons

Your Comments On Civility

Our listeners had a lot to say about our show on politeness, protest and civil discourse. The panel discussion got heated. At times, it seemed like there were more questions than answers. And we value your input and we couldn’t get to everything on the air. Here are some responses we collected from social media.

Some of these comments have been lightly edited for grammar and spelling.

  “My main concern is that we all lower ourselves to shamelessly judging our opponents with a litmus that we could never live up to ourselves.” — George Achorn, Facebook

“I agree. I don’t think heckling or refusing service to those complicit does any good. I’m totally against many of this administration’s policies but there’s gotta be a better way to get the point across. If we support this, does this mean that establishments with conservative owners can turn away those who worked for the Obama administration? Where does it end?” — Echo on Facebook

  Not everyone has access to government officials for closed-door meetings, or near infinite funds, or the ability to influence lawmakers with lobbyists. Those “unconnected” people must use different methods to attempt to get results. Civil unrest is that method. — Erik on Facebook

We need to direct our outrage and disgust with this administration and its’ inhumane treatment of immigrant families in more effective and civil ways than personal attacks on individuals. It is imperative that we do not stoop to the level of Donald Trump’s behavior. Let’s be inspired by Barack Obama’s words to the military where he reminds us that our country has been and should continue to be a beacon for others who are struggling towards democracy and equality. We must protest at all levels of government and put unrelenting pressure on our lawmakers. — Jane on Facebook

 Liberals love to just shut it down if they don’t like it. — Matt on Facebook

 There is no doubt the 24 hour news cycle is not our friend. In a constant search for ratings we are offered contentious confrontations in show after show. Undermining any attempt at constructive debate or discourse is a horrifying disagreement over “facts”. There is a social media parallel as people vie for “likes” and lob words from behind keyboards they would never use face to face. Under all of this is a dizzying, drumbeat assault on decency and democracy by the man who sits in the Oval Office. Be vocal, educate yourself on policy, learn about the candidates, but above all, vote, vote in every election. — Susan on Facebook

If you ever want to get in touch with the show, you can email us at 1A@wamu.org, leave us a voicemail at 855-236-1212 or download our new app, 1A VoxPop.

 Text by Gabrielle Healy

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