America’s shame culture: is it really 1642 all over again?June 26, 2018
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is set in 1642. Three hundred and seventy five years later, the political left is publicly shaming those who don’t publicly align with the new Puritanism of the political left.
“Anger and division in American politics are creating a rising phenomenon: the public shaming and shunning of political figures while they are going about their private lives,” the Washington Post reports. To what is Mary Jordan referring? On Friday evening, White House Press Secretary and several members of her family were refused service and asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Virginia. Their offense? She works for the President and the manager doesn’t like his politics.
While unquestionably inhospitable, uncivil and unkind, is it illegal? Good question, and according to the article “Few laws expressly prohibit a business from refusing service to a customer because of political views.”
“Civil rights lawyers said that while there have been many cases in recent history involving establishments barring black people, women or members of the LGBT community, shunning people for their political ideology or affiliation” remains largely untested in the courts.
But those tests have begun, often framed as limitations on expression (speech) or religion.
Remember the guy at the bar with the MAGA hat? Or the guy with the “Please I.D. me” t-shirt in Minnesota? Or the kid with the “Border Wall Construction Company” t-shirt in Oregon? Or the kid with the gun rights t-shirt in Nevada? But what if a business refuses to print your t-shirt? Are they protected? What if a guy named Jack refuses to bake a particular cake? Yes, you see where this is going.
Social media magnifies these events, further deepening the partisan divides and fueling the fires of incivility. I won’t quote the things being said on Twitter from either side because none of it is edifying. But within hours of Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ experience on Friday evening, millions of Americans knew what happened and they learned about it from social media.
Former President Obama’s ethics chief, Walter Shaub, began stirring the proverbial partisan pot by publicly declaring Sarah Sanders’ use of her official White House Twitter account to respond to employees at the restaurant having already made the incident public, was not only a violation of White House ethics’ rules but actually illegal.
The experience of the White House Press Secretary and her family is part of what appears to be a growing trend. A tactic of cultural warriors who cannot see the hypocrisy in standing on both sides of the argument about whether or not a private business should serve a customer with whose views the owner disagrees.
Pam Bondi, the Florida attorney general who is aligned with President Trump, was shouted down at a movie screening of Mister Rogers’ Won’t You Be My Neighbor? in Tampa on Friday. The hecklers were so disruptive that Attorney General Bondi was forced to leave without seeing the movie.
Last week protesters ambushed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at a D.C. restaurant chanting, “Shame! If they don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace!” How do you sleep at night? Aren’t you a mother too? Can’t you hear the babies crying?” After 10 minutes the U.S. Cabinet Secretary and the colleague with whom she was attempting to share a meal, left.
Anyone notice that in all three of these cases we are talking about publicly shaming Trump allies who are women? Is being pro-Trump the new Scarlet Letter in America? (As an aside, I think we might all benefit from re-reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterwork. Remember Hester and Pearl? Do you recall that Hester’s sexual sin is committed with the pastor who is the father of Pearl? Or that Hester is incarcerated with her child? Does the bullying of Pearl sear your conscience today? What about the threat to remove the child from her mother and the appeal of the adulterous pastor to the legal authorities of the day to keep them together? The themes of our conversations have not changed in three hundred years, just the characters themselves.)
Jon Meacham (author of The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels, 2018) told the Washington Post that he cannot recall a “similarly tribal moment” in recent history: “We’re kind of back to the Colonial era in terms of public shaming, with virtual and symbolic stocks in the public square rather than literal ones.”
And who thinks it’s okay? Well, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters for one. This weekend on MSNBC and via Twitter she encouraged harassment of Trump officials. “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”.
What exactly does that mean? What does it mean to say that members of the opposing view are not welcome anymore, anywhere in the conversation? Not welcome to live freely and go about their daily lives with their families? Does that sound like the America you want to live in? Does that sound like liberty, freedom or justice?