Ethics Quiz: Santa In A MAGA Cap

Frank Skinner, who has played  Santa Claus at a mall in Waycross, Georgia for 50 years, says he was nearing the end of a long shift with kids on on and off his knee and the mall  was finally empty. For fun, he put on a MAGA cap as he sat in his Santa chair and took his own photo. Then he shared it for friends on his Facebook page.Predictably, some jerk sent it  to the mall’s management with a complaint.To be clear, the picture didn’t show Santa reading Hustler, or feeling up a busty co-ed, or snorting coke. It showed him wearing the campaign cap of the President of the United States.

The mall responded, “We apologize for this occurrence and will be addressing this right away. The Mall at Waycross does not support any specific political party. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Kindly, Mall Management.” Then  the mall’s manager told reporters that the posing of the photo was “done completely without our knowledge” and added that “it’s safe to say he will not be wearing this hat around here. This particular Santa has been replaced.” Frank was fired.

Your Ethics Alarms Christmas season Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Was the mall’s action fair and responsible?

I have to begin with this: supporting the President of the United States is not a partisan statement. It is a patriotic statement, It has always been, and must always be. When I was a little boy in the Boston  area, I watched a popular children’s program that featured, every day, a toast to the President, We were told to drink a glass of milk as the strains of Hail to the Chief were played, and the camera focused on a framed photograph of President Eisenhower. The children of Democrats and Republicans all toasted Ike; it wasn’t an expression of partisan politics. It was an expression of respect for the country, the office, and American institutions.

I may never forgive the Democratic Party, its leaders and its allies for setting out to destroy that consensus and obliterate that crucial point of unity. That said, they have, or just about, and those engaged in commerce can’t ignore how people think and what triggers their emotions, as wrong or misguided as they might be.

Frank Skinner took the photo in the mall, and in his Santa costume. That was stupid, because it turned what a personal act into what could be interpreted as a company statement. Yet he only put it on his personal Facebook page, and absent the malicious intervention of someone seeking to cause trouble for Santa, or so seething with anti-Trump hate that he or she couldn’t control themselves. You know, like most of my Facebook friends, Robert De Niro, Hillary Clinton, the op-ed columnists of the New York Times, Bill Kristol, people like that.

This is also one of those cases where there is no way for a company to be perceived as neutral by all. However, simply reprimanding Santa and asking him to refrain from making photos or statements that might be interpreted, however unreasonably, as political advocacy is a lot more neutral seeming than a mall treating a long-time employee as an undesirable because he was seen on Facebook wearing a MAGA cap.

I think I wouldn’t be sad to see a serious and expensive backlash against that mall and its management.

You might feel differently.

30 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Santa In A MAGA Cap

  1. Far better, I think, if the mall had made a vague comment about addressing the matter, let people think he was fired if they wanted to be. Mall santas tend to look alike for some reason. Jolly, white beard…

  2. 50 years and they fire him for that? That’s too much. Just tell him to wear the Santa cap and not the Trump one and get on with your life…..

  3. Shouldn’t there be a Political Santa Claus Principle?

    The hat says Trump on it. It is endorsing a particular candidate who does, yes, happen to be the President of the United States, but it is a partisan hat nonetheless. Mr. Smith does have the right to endorse a particular candidate as he is an American citizen and he does have the right to put it on his Facebook page.

    But should he have? He was in a Santa Claus costume and Santa Claus should always be shown as a kind, gentle, non-partisan figure who doesn’t take sides. Isn’t Christmas better off without politics mixing in? In the hostile political environment in which we live, someone has to say out of the fray. Why shouldn’t that person be Santa Claus?

    I’ve fallen in love recently with Gene Autrey’s “Here Comes Santa Claus”. The third verse goes:

    “Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus Lane
    He doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, he loves you just the same
    Santa Claus knows we’re all God’s children, that makes everything right
    So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer, ’cause Santa Claus comes tonight”

    Couldn’t that also be sung, “He doesn’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat, he loves you just the same”?

    I just think that it’s irresponsible for someone in a Santa Claus costume to make a political statement, even it was in fun, and post it on social media where any humorless, petty jerk could make an issue of it. He must know how very likely that is.

    The mall over-reacted, to be sure, but Santa should have kept his photo to himself.

    • I’m a traditionalist regarding the image of Santa too. He (or she or ze) wearing or looking like anything else just isn’t Christmas. The other night we were in Chick -fil-A and a SantaCow, in all his 6ft. + glory walked around. A kid had a meltdown seeing such a thing. SantaCow was amusing & hilarious but produced some cognitive dissonance for a bunch of us there.

      One way to deal with these sorts of controversies is for employers to have policies regarding wearing work clothing or being in the work environment while promoting or engaging in non-work related activities. Having been an employer in the past, I know I wouldn’t appreciate staff potentially tarnishing the reputation of the company by “contaminating” it with non-work related social media postings while still in the work place, even off duty. It doesn’t matter if it’s MAGA hats or Katie Perry fan gear, leave that stuff for after work, away from work.

      MAGA-Santa needed a warning not firing, but if I had been his supervisor I would have been pissed.

      • You make a very good point. The quick rise of social media has caused many people to lose perspective on what is or is not acceptable in the workplace.

        My Facebook settings are set to private. Only friends can see my posts and I am very careful what I post about. My social media does not identify my workplace at all. I do not post about work or take photos at work. I am considering untagging myself from any posts made by co-workers that refer to work. I also avoid politics and social issues.

        Folks need to remember that, even if they do not Friend their boss, a Friended co-worker can easily show the boss posts made by colleagues.

        MAGA Santa either has a weed among his garden of friends or his Facebook profile is public. In this hostile political environment, he must know that Trump regalia is going to incite the furies and showed remarkable naivete posting that photo.

        If employees cannot regulate their behavior outside of work, employers will start exercising more control over them after working hours. I can easily see employers requiring employees to change out of work uniforms before leaving the business or barring them from identifying their employer on any social media.

  4. Jack, you yourself called it a “campaign cap,” which I take as meaning that you recognize it not as support for the Presidency but for the Trump campaign. An expression of partisanship, not patriotism. As it was such I will quote the wisdom of a bartender I once dated. She told me, “never take sides on sports teams or political candidates at work. The only thing you’ll do is piss off half your customers.”

    • That campaign ended in 2016. After that, it’s support of the man who was elected, that we elected as a people, whether we voted for him or not. A Sata wearing a “Hope and Change” T-shirt on Facebook would never be criticized, much less reported for misconduct. And imagine a mall firing a black santa for that.

      • I must disagree. If Donald Trump were not running for reelection you would have a stronger argument. But since the Trump 2020 reelection campaign was begun in January 2017, since “MAGA” hats are among the items sold as fundraisers on the Trump 2020 reelection website, and since that is a standard theme among participants in the campaign’s regular Trump 2020 reelection rallies, it should be very understandable why that hat would be seen as a partisan endorsement ahead of the 2020 ballot, not a statement of patriotism.

        • My understanding is that: the shift was done; there was no one around; this was a completely private photo; no customers were exposed to it.

          The only thing that I can conceive he did wrong was using the mall camera for a personal photo (even though that is what it is technically used all day for).

          But, THAT does not appear to be either the basis for the complaint or the firing.

          As much as I think society is too litigious, my first reaction was: he should sue the mall for publicly disclosing matters in his personnel file.

          I don’t think he did anything wrong here. It does not matter whether the hat is a political statement or not because this was a private photo (even if made public on his PERSONAL page). Had he worn that hat on the job, that’s a no-brainer, too: the mall could and should terminate him.


        • So in June of 2018, when people were (as now) harassing and attacking anyone wearing the caps, it was because they were campaign caps? This isn’t a 2019 phenomenon, this is a continuous phenomenon, because a large segment of the population—you can see it on my Facebook page—are stuck in denial over the results of an election that was a fact three years ago. There’s no campaign until we have official candidates. Until then, it’s just a country behaving like assholes.

  5. Ugh…I mean Mr.Skinner, not Mr.Smith and stay out of the fray instead of say out of it. That’s what I get for posting at 630 AM.

  6. Jack wrote:

    I have to begin with this: supporting the President of the United States is not a partisan statement. It is a patriotic statement, It has always been, and must always be.

    This sounds good on paper and perhaps in some imagined country far far away (like on some distant star) it might be true, but in the political world of today it is simply not true.

    To support president Trump is a partisan position, and I would suggest that if one really and truly ‘supports’ him it is a position of ignorance and failure to understand certain crucial ‘realities’. In actual fact — this is what I have come to personally — it is folly to *support* any president who will come to be elected in this specific period in history, given the corruption of the entire system. There is a nearly absolute disconnection between the power-system and those who operate it and control it, and the people of the country itself. The power-system does what it does, and pursues its objectives, while the people of the nation merely sit nearby and watch. That is one true fact. The other factor has to do with a private sector so amazingly powerful that it determines, largely, how everything is seen.

    This has resulted in: a system that is sold out to business and military interests. This is the starting point for clear seeing, whether one wishes to face it or not. That is the best overview I can come up with at this point. No matter if one is ‘democrat’ or ‘republican’. If one is really a citizen, and if one really pays attention to the message of the quest for liberty and freedom — as defined by the Founders — one has no option but to name and oppose the corruption that is prevalent. This requires a perspective gained only perhaps by retrospective historical analysis: Gibbon or Mommsen for example.

    I personally think this is what it resolves down into: a fundamental corruption that will not, and perhaps cannot, be seen and recognized. Now, why would the solitary individual have an interest in not seeing, not explaining what happened and how? That is the part that I do not get. (But my theory has to do with a process by which ‘the individual’ links his own person qua person with ‘the Nation’, and that in itself is a study in perversity).

    My arguments against a national government sold out to business and military factions involves seeing that it does not matter, at least not substantially so, what political party has power because the ‘deep state’ structures function no matter what. As a reference point take for example Mike Lofgren’s “Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government”. The title alone indicates the ‘area of concern’ and if and when these things are brought out into the open and talked about — publicly and by a genuinely intellectually free population — then the real problem could be better seen and understood.

    But this is the point, again as far as I am able to tell: I encounter no one, and certainly not on this Blog, who 1) sees the full picture, 2) is concerned about it, and 3) writes about it. The reason? Because of the way ‘patriotism’ is understood and defined. In relation to that one is forced — intellectually, morally and ethically — to refer to this style of patriotism as ‘false-patriotism’ or in any case to suggest a criticism of it. And I would construct an argument that describes this *false-patriotism*, and counters it, based on the stance of the Founders of the nation who engaged themselves in a radical oppositional project to the corrupted power-systems of England.

    Simply put, they saw right into the heart of the matter of how ‘liberty’ becomes corrupted by ‘the machinations of power’ and they attempted to devise a system of government which could inhibit private or government power from corruption ‘liberty’ and what liberty meant as a specific attainment. You have a Republic if you can keep it. The meaning of the present is that the Republic a) has been lost or b) is in the precess of being lost. Seeing that, describing that, is a spiritual and moral act.

    There are people — and some of them are indeed on the ‘progressive-left’ pole — who are doing what everyone in the end or at some point must do: try to interpret their world. Try to organize some encompassing understanding of it. Try to point out what went wrong and why (because the critical view is so prevalent and also necessary given the nature and tendencies of *vast power-systems*). So, as an example, take Bill Moyers and his interesting journalistic piece on the Deep State:

    [ ]

    Is he a communist? A Hyper-Democrat? Is he a patriot? Is he a Constitutionalist? Is he *seeing clearly*? Or is he seeing through tinged lenses? Is it licit in this absurd present to actually make an analysis of the present that is critical and trenchant and yet 100% ‘patriotic’? Is there any oppositional platform that can be seen as legitimately patriotic? And if so, what would be its elements? On what would it base itself? And what would it advocate for and against what?

  7. I looked at the photo and could not discern where the photo was taken. The Santa looks like the one at our mall so I cannot determine who he is so I cannot associate him with any mall.

    Sure, I suppose people who know him and that he works at this mall would know so that means that the person complaining knows both and is the one bringing “negative” attention to the mall not the Santa.

    If we want to assert partisanship then the mall was behaving in a partisan manner by firing the employee .

  8. I think we’re in “Naked teacher principle” territory here, as someone else alluded to above. Also, I agree with Greg Wiggins above who said this is one of those things you don’t do, because you wind up pissing off half your customers. Essentially, the NTP says that even a personal photo that somehow leaks through no fault of your own removes your defense for job consequences. I think that applies very well here.

    I think firing him was probably an overreaction, but a predictable one that solves their problem, just as a rebuke probably would. The problem with it is, they potentially harmed their own commercial interests because their response looks mean and merciless (and not at all Christmas-y), and it also suggests that the mall management is taking sides in the MAGA debate against people who support the president.

    So ultimately, their overreaction may do more damage to their own interests than to those of the man who got fired, which would be poetic justice for their shrewish response.

  9. The facts dont support termination. The original story tried to paint a false equivalency between conservative animus toward Kapernick’s kneeling and this situation. Kapernick knelt in front of 50,000 customers each time Skinner did so after work in front of no one. More importantly Kapernick was not immediately fired; his contract was not renewed later. Had Skinner donned the cap during his shift that would be another matter and I would say the behavior was unacceptable.

    I wonder how many members of the management team would be fired if someone got access to their email accounts and found an email that was objectionable to another group. I would venture a guess that no one has nothing but work related emails in their inbox and just as many have shared objectionable materials they thought funny..

    • I think this one might fall into The Naked Teacher Principle.

      I think I can understand why you would say that, but I think there are a few problems with that assessment. I will try to explain:

      First, a school teacher who engages in sexual misconduct, is transgressing in a limited area. Our social norms — though this is changing of course — does not allow teachers of children to appear to be loose sexually. Long ago, and more especially for women who were teachers — and mostly women were teachers — it was part of cultural norms that a teacher have a ‘chaste appearance’.

      But in a sense there is no issue of ‘speech’ involved when and if a teacher posts a naked photo. That is, there is no ‘speech content’ or political opinion expressed. If there is a ‘speech’ issue it is only of a vary limited sort.

      The Santa who had his photo taken with a Trump hat should never have had to apologize to anyone. He was completely free to take such a photo of himself. There is no possible argument that could be brought out in a so-called free society that could successfully take the man’s right away.

      And definitely not to a private commercial interest. He put on a Trump hat for his own reasons, took a photo of it for his own reasons, and I do not believe that any private commercial interest should a) feel that it has to mediate this or b) should be given a right to do so. They should stay out of the whole controversy. (They should sit down and shut up.)

      Neither does any (vindictive) private citizen have any right — according to my sense of what is proper– to put a private commercial interest in the position of having to offer an opinion, and to force that business to fire the man (any person who expresses speech that is protected and should be protected).

      That partisan citizens can do this — can apply pressure to a company to then inflict harm on a private individual — is horrifying. Citizens know that they can do this, and they cynically and deviously do put pressure on private commercial enterprises to inflict their will and to do harm.

      The way to cure the problem is to establish an ethic whereby private citizens opt to *play fair* and not to try to ruin their opponent’s lives (as getting a man fired might amount to). The citizens who publicized this private sharing on FB should be condemned, not the man who took the photo. And the ‘Mall’ should also be condemned. It would be a sign of a certain decency. But, and let’s face the fact: people are becoming more and more indecent.

  10. I will not be going to that mall this year (or next). **

    ## Full Disclosure: That city is 1,064 miles away from me. Had it not been for Google Earth, I would have no idea where this rinky-dink town or mall was.

  11. This is also one of those cases where there is no way for a company to be perceived as neutral by all. However, simply reprimanding Santa and asking him to refrain from making photos or statements that might be interpreted, however unreasonably, as political advocacy is a lot more neutral seeming than a mall treating a long-time employee as an undesirable because he was seen on Facebook wearing a MAGA cap.

    Statement by Mall Ownership:

    We instructed our longtime employee — an adored Santa for 50 years — that we do not allow political photographs to be taken in our Mall and by any employee who is working. However, what that employee does on their own time — what political opinions they have, what candidates they support, et cetera — is entirely their own business and we encourage all citizens of the US to be actively involved in politics; to have opinions and ideas and to express them.

    For those who wish to put pressure on us — a private business involved only in providing a space for other businesses to sell their products and services — to reprimand or to fire Frank Skinner should be ashamed of themselves for doing this. This is not the way to go about expressing political differences. Therefore, though we prohibit expressions of political orientation while anyone is working at our Mall we refuse to be forced to take any action against Frank Skinner. We reminded Frank Skinner of our standard and common sense policy and asked him to remove that specific photo which was taken while he was on-duty and taken while he was on the clock.

    We will take no more action however, and we should not be asked to take any other action for obvious reasons. If you do not like it: perhaps you should move to China?


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