Restaurant ban exposes rift tearing US apart

In the firing line: Sarah Huckabee Sanders started working on Trump’s campaign in 2016. © Getty

Should the Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia, have refused to serve Donald Trump’s press secretary? The restaurant’s decision is a symbol of the increasing toxicity of American politics.

A “cosy destination serving a daily menu of farm-to-table New American cuisine in rustic-chic quarters” has become the centre of a national furore.

On Friday night, Stephanie Wilkinson, the co-owner of the Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia, received a phone call from the restaurant’s chef. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, President Donald Trump’s press secretary, and her family had just walked in and sat down, the chef told her.

Wilkinson drove down to the restaurant. When she arrived, she asked Sanders’s party to leave.

Explaining her decision, Wilkinson explained her belief that Sanders worked for an “inhumane and unethical” administration. “This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”

Sanders tweeted: “Her actions say far more about her than about me.”

The incident comes during a massive row over the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican border.

It is not the first time that political anger has spilled into what was once the private sphere. But even more liberal publications, such as The Washington Post, are uneasy with what happened at the Red Hen. Its editorial stated that anyone “should be allowed to eat dinner in peace.”

The row sums up what the Wall Street Journal has called “the politicisation of everything”. Nothing, not even food, is free from politics.

During Gay Pride Month, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey apologised for eating at Chick-fil-A, a chain that has donated over $5 million to anti-gay organisations.

A poll conducted in October found that 70% of Americans believe the country is now divided as badly as it was during the Vietnam War.

In 1960, only 5% of Republicans and 4% of Democrats said they would be unhappy if a son or daughter married someone from the other party. Today, those figures are closer to 50%.

Incidents like the one at the Red Hen are becoming more and more common, and many people agree with the restaurant’s decision. Are they right?

Food fight

A company has the right to turn away whoever it wants, say some. Compare this to a recent Supreme Court ruling in favour of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. That case was seen by many conservatives as a victory for religious freedom. Their anger at this is just as partisan as the restaurant’s decision.

Think where all this might lead, warn others. Will all American stores and restaurants one day cater to just one political tribe? If people cannot be civil with those they disagree with, then, in the words of The Washington Post, America will be a country where “only the most zealous sign up for public service.” And no one wants that.

You Decide

  1. Should restaurants be allowed to ask people to leave based on their political beliefs?
  2. Has America ever been as divided as it is now?


  1. In one minute, write down everything you know about the immigration scandal that led to this row. Compare your answers with those of your classmates.
  2. Imagine that you are setting up a store, a restaurant or any kind of company. List three political principles you would want your business to stand by.

Some People Say...

“Everything is politics.”

Thomas Mann

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Red Hen restaurant, located in the small city of Lexington, Virginia, is at the centre of a political storm after one of its owners asked a senior member of Trump’s White House team to leave. Several of the restaurant’s staff are gay and objected to Sanders’s defence of the president’s policy of banning transgender people from the US military. We know that this is just the latest in a string of similar incidents.
What do we not know?
To what extent Trump is the cause of the upsurge in political partisanship. Studies show that it has been gradually increasing for years, but that negative feelings between Republicans and Democrats have rocketed up since Trump emerged onto the political scene.

Word Watch

Lexington, Virginia
The city voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, but the surrounding area went heavily for Donald Trump.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Sanders, 35, is the daughter of Mike Huckabee, who ran in the Republican presidential primaries in 2008 and 2016.
The president tweeted: “The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”
The chain was founded by S. Truett Carthy, a devout Southern Baptist. All Chick-fil-A restaurants are closed on Sundays.
A baker who refused to make a wedding cake
In 2015, there was a similar case in Northern Ireland when Ashers Bakery refused to bake a cake that featured a message in support of same sex marriage. The bakery was ordered to pay £500 in damages for breaching anti-discrimination laws, which was upheld on appeal by the UK Supreme Court.

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