Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor who became famous as the defense counsel for Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson, and other transgressing celebrities, has had his feelings hurt.
Although he claims to be a liberal Democrat, Dershowitz has publicly defended the civil liberties of Donald J. Trump, and because of that, he wrote in an opinion piece for The Hill published June 27, he is being “shunned” by some of his “old friends on Martha’s Vineyard,” where he spends his summers. He’s soldiering on, he told his readers, because “from a personal point of view, I could not care less* about being shunned by people whose views regarding dialogue I do not respect.” He did seem a tad preoccupied, though: He used some form of the word shun seven times in the essay. (He had not just an ax to grind but a book to hawk: The Case Against Impeaching Trump is being published today.)
Poster for The Shunning (2011). “Beautiful Katie Lapp has always felt something missing in her simple Amish existence -- until a mysterious ‘Englisher’ comes to Lancaster County looking for the baby girl she gave up for adoption 19 years ago.”
Dershowitz isn’t suffering alone; in recent weeks, several Trump defenders have had their day in the shun. In June, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the administration’s press secretary, was asked to leave a Lexington, Virginia, restaurant because she works for an “unethical and inhumane” administration. After the proudly pro-Trump minor actor James Woods was dropped by his agent on July 4, Fox News Insider protested that Woods too was, yes, being “shunned.” And spare a tear for Melania Trump, current wife of the president, who, according to Hollywood Life, is “being shunned by A-listers who once flocked to her wedding.”
All in all, it’s been a fruitful season for shun, a short and vivid verb whose history can be traced to Old English, even if its origin, according to the OED, is “obscure.” (It may be related to a Germanic root meaning “to cover or hide,” and it could be related to shunt (to move, to push out of the way.)
Shunned: How I Lost My Religion and Found Myself (2018), by a former Jehovah’s Witness.
Shun had many meanings – to loathe, to seek safety by concealment, to evade – before settling, in the early 12th century, on to eschew, to reject, or to avoid out of repugnance, fear, or caution. There’s a long and often institutionalized tradition of religious shunning. A Jehovah’s Witness who is deemed to have committed a serious sin and failed to repent may be subject to “disfellowshipping”; other Witnesses are not allowed to speak to or associate with a disfellowshipped person. (Various New Testament verses are cited in support of this practice.) Some ultra-Orthodox Jews practice cherem, or excommunication. In Scientology, shunning is called disconnection; members of the “church” are asked “to quit all communication with Suppressive Persons (those whom the Church deems antagonistic to Scientology).”
Religious shunning is relatively rare in the 21st century, but a whiff of anathema – along with overtones of Mean Girls – still lingers around shun. (“There is no greater ignominy,” hyperbolized Alexandra Petri in her satirical Washington Post column about l’affaire Dersh, “than this, to be shunned by the crowd who Summer in a Location.”) Shun and ban are sometimes considered synonyms, but ban is stronger, often carrying the force of law; to shun something or someone is to spurn it, while to ban is to prohibit or outlaw. Dershowitz’s erstwhile acquaintances may be shunning him, but Sarah Huckabee Sanders is on the Red Hen’s do-not-seat list. She’s with the banned.
* Or as a certain coat put it, “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?”