Ethics Alarms has repeatedly inveighed against public accommodations that have attempted to discriminate based on customers’ social and political views. This growing phenomenon is part of the ugly legacy of division and and hyper-partisanship created by the Obama years, and it threatens to get worse. If we want an ethical society and a healthy culture, we have to unite and reject this undemocratic tendency quickly and emphatically. It literally threatens all of us.
The specific incident prompting this alarm comes from a restaurant in my region, Maggiano’s Little Italy in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Last week, Maggiano’s was subject to a protest so vociferous that the restaurant has to shut down for the safety of employees and diners. The reason for the protest was that National Policy Institute (NPI), an alt-right group, was having a banquet there. In a grovelling e-mail to the community, Maggiano’s management wrote that
“We were not aware that NPI was dining with us or what the group represents. After the event, an attendee sent a tweet in which she made a “Sieg Heil salute” in support of Hitler and white supremacy. This expression of support of Hitler is extremely offensive to us, as our restaurant is home to Teammates and Guests of every race, religion and cultural background. We want to sincerely apologize to the community of Friendship Heights for inadvertently hosting this meeting, which resulted in hateful sentiment.”
When did it become required conduct for restaurants to investigate the liberal bona fides of a group before it could be granted leave to dine there? When did what a diner tweets after a meal become conduct a restaurant had to account for? If Maggiano’s can be bullied into apologizing for serving the NPI, why would serving any other group or organization that some group of self-righteous protesters find objectionable, fairly or not, pose a similar risk?
Put aside the Nazi salute: that’s inappropriate conduct in a public place, and the restaurant could certainly, and should, tell diners who behaved like that to leave. That’s not what the restaurant is apologizing for, however. They are apologizing for hosting the group, despite its Constitutionally protected political views.
Where will the restaurant draw the line and declare it won’t refuse business to citizens based on their beliefs? Are all groups, families and individuals now going to be required to declare their political and ideological positions before being allowed to order a lasagna? What is an acceptable group? If there is a protest over a Black Lives Matter dinner, will Maggiano’s apologize? If Mike Pence and his family eats there and the “Hamilton” cast protests, does that mean they will refuse to serve cannoli members of the Trump administration? Despite the fact that the protests came from progressives, the attack on the restaurant is totalitarian in substance. What is being commanded is conformity of thought.
Among other examples of this un-American conduct, Ethics Alarms has condemned…
- …the bigotry of a truck driver who refused to tow a car because it belonged to a Bernie Sanders supporter:
“Partyism is just another form of bigotry, just one that isn’t illegal. The United States is predicated on the concept of open political advocacy and freedom of expression, neither of which is worth John Nance Garners’ bucket of warm spit if we face being left in a ditch because of the candidate we support. [This] corrosive behavior…is likely to get worse, and I don’t know how much “worse” our suffering sense of community can stand.Each of us has an ethical duty to do whatever we can to stop and reverse this dangerous trend.We also have a duty to help neighbors who get stranded on the highway, no matter what the bumper stickers on their cars say.”
“I detest this kind of thing, and so should you, because it is ethically indefensible and un-American to the core. The policy, whether it is well-publicized or quietly implemented as this one was, exacerbates societal divisions and embraces bias and prejudice. There may be a legal difference between this and charging a premium (that is, a penalty) to those who have Obama stickers on their cars or who are wearing T-shirts with the logo of the local team’s nemesis, but ethically it is all the same: splitting the world into them and us, good guys and bad guys, the virtuous and the reviled. All of “Mary’s” customers are human beings, and that is the only thing that should matter in the United States of America.”
- …the “farmers only” dating service that portrays “city folk” as unfit for human association:
“These are bigoted and divisive commercials that work to create a them vs. us environment by class and region. That is the last thing the United States needs right now, or ever needed.”
- …the yoga class that segregated participants by race and sexual orientation, in which I imagined a debate question posed to the Democratic Party contenders:
“You claim to be a progressive–what is your response to gay-only, black-only yoga classes as a way to promote diversity? Will you condemn such practices as un-American and a violation of Democratic core principles? Remember, it will cost you the Hypocritical Left voting bloc, which is obviously huge….?”
I know, I know: Neo-Nazis are really bad. Yet I don’t want my freedom to participate in life and society to be limited by someone else’s judgments about my beliefs or politics. Listen to the rhetoric from angry Clinton supporters since the election. If you want to enforce immigration laws, you hate Latinos. If you think the unborn deserve rights, you are a misogynist. If you voted for Trump, you are a blight on humanity. Thanks to the rhetoric of Black Lives Matters and the tacit approval of some well-placed politicians, police officers have been refused service in various establishments (when they aren’t being shot, that is.) The argument that this group or that group is special and doesn’t deserve the same courtesy and service as other groups is simply a rationalization born of bias, like the New York Times declaring that Donald Trump didn’t deserve objective reporting, or the position that the Vice President Elect, alone among all the millions of audience members who are allowed to attend theatrical performances as part of the community, ought to be subjected to personal harassment based on his political beliefs.
If we, as a culture, approve of this abusive treatment of the alt-right, then we are approving similar treatment when the group being discriminated against is the Democratic Party, the ACLU, a mosque, the Shriners, the Boy Scouts, NARAL, or a newspaper editorial board. Rights mean nothing if the most unpopular, most controversial, most offensive individuals and organizations cannot exercise them. Protesters who want to force restaurants to discriminate on the basis of opinions and beliefs must be vigorously opposed, not receive apologies.
This is a slippery slope that leads right to the end of the principles and liberties that make the United States an ethical nation, and perhaps a nation at all.