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.