By phone, by email and in person, I’ve been hearing from a lot of readers this week on the issue of incivility. Many of them are trying to set me straight on what the term means.
These communications arose in the wake of Tuesday’s column about Stephanie Wilkinson, the Lexington restaurant owner who told the Washington Post she quietly and politely asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave The Red Hen on Friday night.
President Donald Trump followed up with a Monday morning tweet attacking the eatery’s exterior as “filthy.” Trump added: “I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”
Wilkinson’s actions were the epitome of incivility, some readers told me. How dare she ask the president’s spokeswoman to leave? Another called Trump’s broadside “great.” Here are some more of the responses:
Dean Wright: “Riveting reporting! Such an arrogant boob you are ‘Casey.’ ”
Steve Nelson: “You might want to inform [Rep. Maxine] Wigs Waters her wigs are made in China and maybe laced with fentanyl....or something....nothing else can explain her ignorance.”
Jim Francis: “You made the comment that ‘you long for the good old days....’ if you are referring to the days when the Oval Office was inhabited by an arrogant and racist individual such as Mr. Obama who failed on foreign, domestic, and military policy, I choose to disagree with you: I’d much rather have the Trump mouth that is actually getting things done than return to the days of the Chicago dummy.”
Donny Blankenship: “Great tweet, President Trump, [The Red Hen] is trashy on the outside. Open your eyes up, liberal Dan. There is more trash on the inside!!! To refuse service to a hard working American who has done nothing wrong, just because she works for the President of the United States who is putting America back on the right track. ‘Most successful . . . President ever elected Dan.’ Trashy plus lowlife Democrat owner or owners would think to do something like this.”
All the above were emails. In a text to me, Peggy Nicely wrote: “You need to check facts before you write lies in the paper.”
These weren’t the only responses I received.
Michael Ramsey wrote: “I applaud the actions of Stephanie Wilkinson and her staff. … Wilkinson’s actions remind me of the Hans Christian Anderson story, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ Everyone was so afraid to tell the emperor that he was naked, that they pretended to see the magnificent new attire (and the large train being ‘carried’ by footmen). Then [a] small child enquired why the emperor was naked. The many lackeys scrambled to reassure the emperor that it was just a silly little boy — what would he know?”
And then there was Craig Smith: “Appreciated your well-documented piece on the Red Hen today. Have enjoyed eating there many times. But surely you will have a Part 2 on Trump’s own tawdry health inspection history at his several eating establishments.”
Ed Reynolds called it “a really good column” and added: “My opinion: Being nice, sweet and overly-civil to opponents like the Trump bunch is not necessarily a winning strategy in this turbulent, toxic environment we find ourselves in today.”
Pamela Dodson added: “Excellent reporting on the Trump bullying and lying from the White House. Thank you!”
You can’t read all of the above and not realize that there’s a big divide in America. It’s not only over Trump. We also seem conflicted on the very meanings of the terms “civility” and “incivility.” One of them means gracious and respectful and courteous. The other means rude, disrespectful and discourteous.
I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which. But consider the demonstrations that have occurred outside The Red Hen this week, which caused Lexington police to briefly close the street outside it.
Some demonstrators left bouquets of flowers and supportive signs. The actions of some others were the polar opposite.
One protestor loudly warned the restaurant’s employees are “gonna end up in hell.” Another carried a sign that declared, “Homos are full of demons.” (Wilkinson told the Post that some of her employees are gay.) A third hurled a bucket of chicken feces at the restaurant.
My favorite was the one who, reportedly, waved a sign that claimed “Trump is love.”
It calls to mind the late George Orwell, author of the novel “1984.” In its final chapter, he described three key slogans of the ruling political party in a fictional nation. They were: “War is peace,” “Freedom is slavery” and “Ignorance is strength.”
You don’t think it can get that weird?
Buddy, it already has.