Florida Senator Marco Rubio attacked 'Salt Bae' online for hosting Nicolas Maduro in his famed Istanbul restaurant - but his actions probably did little more than put innocent restaurant workers in the crossfire.

One of Turkey’s most famous faces on the Internet, Nusret Gokce aka “Salt Bae,” this week incurred the Twitter wrath of one of America’s most bumbling political figures, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, after Gokce served Venezuelan autocrat Nicolas Maduro a private meal in Istanbul. 

Before we begin, I’ll cut to the chase: everybody in this affair deserves criticism, Maduro, Rubio and Gokce. 

But what’s most significant is how Rubio decided to score cheap political points by encouraging the harassment of employees at Nusret Miami, who have no control over what Gokce does. If Florida’s Venezuelan community wants to protest Nusr-et’s Miami location, that’s their absolute right. Rubio egging on his 3 million Twitter followers is an irresponsible abuse of power, but an indication of a troubling, larger trend. 

“This guy @nusr_ett who admires dictator @NicolasMaduro so much actually owns a steakhouse in, of all places, #Miami. It’s called NUSR-ET STEAKHOUSE MIAMI  located at 999 Brickell Avenue, Miami, FL 33131 The phone number is 1 305 415 9990 in case anyone wanted to call,” Rubio tweeted on Tuesday. 

I guarantee you, Gokce is not the person who will be picking up the phone. It will be someone making minimum wage or slightly more than that; someone who does not need the headache of a flood of angry phone calls. Gokce probably isn’t even on the same continent. 

Rubio’s account sent tweet after tweet after tweet this week on the subject. Yelp shut down reviews of the restaurant after people started bombarding Nusr-et Miami with bad ratings. A vocal demonstration gathered outside Nusr-et in Miami on Wednesday, causing further stress to restaurant workers.  

A group of Venezuelan exiles, Veppex, organized the protest, where people denounced employees at Nusret, calling for a boycott or even for the restaurant to be shut down, according to Liane Morejon, a local news reporter in Miami.

Why would people be so angry in the first place? Well, it’s because Maduro presides over a country hemorrhaging, where many can’t afford food and the currency has plummeted in value over the last two years. 

People are trying to make their way to Colombia and Brazil, in hopes of finding work, or just regular meals. Maduro has placed restrictions on imports of basic staple items, and polices the baking of bread, but shows no shame in enjoying fine cuisine abroad. This isn’t surprising, as Maduro shows no shame in turning his government’s guns on starving protestors. 

The right thing for Gokce to have done would be to refuse Maduro a table. Gokce, however, is a business owner, and business owners are, by all accounts, capitalists, the kind of people Rubio likes taking money from to fund his political campaigns. 

Gokce could have considered that serving Maduro, and then posting a video of himself doing so, would have been a controversial move. Business owners should keep their employees’ wellbeing in mind. 

But it would have been hard for Gokce to have predicted the backlash coming from Sen. Marco Rubio himself. That’s in part due to the opaque nature of American politics. Rubio serves as a national representative, but the people who get him elected are in Florida. And Florida has large communities of people of Cuban ancestry, of whom Rubio is one, and Venezuelans. 

Many bear deep resentments against the kleptocratic regimes that currently rule those countries. 

It’s just a big mess that Gokce could have easily avoided with a quick trip to Google. 

Gokce displayed hospitality, generosity and kindness, something many travellers to Turkey enjoy, but Maduro didn’t deserve it from him, if only for strictly business reasons. Instead, Gokce found his business, and its employees, on the wrong end of online outcry. 

Rubio, however, made the situation even worse, and helped put his own constituents in an impossible position. Some of them, for all he knows, don’t like Maduro either. But they have to eat, too, in a state where poverty and homelessness are chronic problems. Rubio showed a willingness to use the Internet to pit people against each other. 

Usually, this is the kind of thing President Donald Trump does, and has been doing since he started running for president in 2015. Now, Rubio has decided that the people working at Nusret Miami, Floridians themselves, are expendable extras in a political theater that achieves nothing but retweets and likes. 

Just like Trump, Rubio should log off. 

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