For decades it has been an argument on the left that everyone is entitled to be served by an establishment regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, sex, etc. But recently these tenets of common decency have been challenged. Since Donald Trump began his ascension to political power the limits of civility and common decency have been tested, most notably by Trump himself. Trump, after all, ran on a campaign of hate and division, announcing his candidacy by riding down a golden escalator and declaring that Mexicans are rapists, drug dealers, criminals, and some, he assumed, were good people. Ignoring the obvious question that comes to mind when it is also posited that those same people are stealing American jobs and just what jobs they are stealing with those qualifications, the reality is that Trump has pushed the boundaries of decency since his announcement.
He has attacked his opponents with all manner of innuendo and insult. He has called prominent Democrats by various racially charged nicknames, and has gone on to suggest that everyone who disagrees with him is either stupid, lazy, drunk, on drugs, a criminal, or something worse. He has attacked core fundamental institutions of a functioning democracy – republican or otherwise – all the while acting as if he is personally persecuted anytime that someone calls him out on this. He has declared the free press the enemy of the people and has singled out entire industries for daring to question his trade policies, even going so far as to, today, attacking Harley Davidson for “waving the white flag” because they will lose money as a result of his recent trade war escapades, and they are trying to keep their business afloat.
In recent weeks Samantha Bee referred to his daughter Ivanka, his de facto First Lady and object of his sexual desire, as a cunt. Trump and his minions decided that this was a step too far and called for the firing – at the least – of Bee from her own show for using such language. This, of course, ignores that Trump was selling T-Shirts during the campaign that used the same language about Hillary Clinton. Indeed, many of his supporters can be seen rocking these shirts at Trump rallies, even as they now pretend to be offended by such a term. Trump has called for, at rallies and on his twitter feed, his supporters to engage in open hostility and engage in acts of violence against those who disagree with him and dare challenge him. You may recall that at a campaign rally he promised to pay for the legal fees for anyone who assaulted someone who did not support him. As someone who was physically assaulted by a Trump supporter and sported the black eye to prove it, I can tell you that Trump and his supporters revel in indecency.
Now, suddenly, Trump and his band of sycophants want civility in disagreement. But what is this civility that they wish to hold the rest of us to? They want passive voices who meekly disagree, but not so loud as to be heard. At the same time, the Trump government has championed lawsuits for people who have claimed, at best, the right to discriminate in business against those who they feel are less than human. Trump has, as has been reported for years now, engaged in some of the most disgusting attacks against civility and due process, indeed against the most basic of human rights, of those that he views as the enemy. Finally, people are publicly and unashamedly pushing back.
Within the last two weeks Kirstjen Nielsen was run out of a Mexican restaurant. Stephen Miller, Trump’s pet “Waffen SS,” as described by a White House adviser, was run out of a restaurant, and Sarah Sanders, Sean Spicer’s less than honest replacement was asked to leave a pub. Trump, for his part, has taken to attacking those who have publicly shamed his employees and used his official capacity as president to denigrate the Red Hen, the restaurant that refused to serve Sanders. This is a direct violation of United States law and ethics rules, just as it was when Sanders herself used her official Press Secretary twitter account to call attention to such actions.
So, where does that leave the question as to whether or not this is acceptable behavior? Many prominent Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as their safe media spaces have decried these actions as beyond the pale. They have argued that everyone should enjoy the right to eat at a restaurant free from harassment and free from ostracization. By the same token, some, such as Maxine Waters, have publicly called for the shaming of Trump cabinet members and employees. Republicans have pushed back against the entire thing arguing that no one should ever be turned away from a public business for any reason.
Who is correct here?
The answer is, as most things in the Trump era, complicated. It has long been, as stated above, a tenant of the liberal mindset that no one should ever be turned away from a business based on discriminatory reasons. Liberals have long held that race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation are protected classes as they are inherent and attained without any conscious decision by the individual. To deny them service is to be discriminatory in a way that is inherently bigoted. Arguments of “religious beliefs” do not hold water under the First Amendment. Indeed, several states had already adopted into their own state law that such cases of discrimination were illegal. This was part of the basis for the recent SCOTUS decision that recognized same sex marriage as valid under the Constitution and further recognized that such arguments against were invalid as they violated both the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
However, Republicans have maintained since then that this was an overreach of the Court. They have argued that a private business is not the same as the Federal (or state) government, and that private businesses should maintain the right to refuse service to specific customers whose “lifestyles” and, seemingly, mere existence, contradict the sincere held beliefs of the business owner. Indeed, this interpretation is still considered valid when it comes to the mandate to cover contraception costs per health insurance and was upheld in a ruling against the ACA, more commonly known as Obamacare. Kim Davis was held up by the political Right as a warrior against government overreach for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, despite a Court ruling.
The Right used this dereliction of duty by an elected official who swore an oath as a rallying cry, going so far as to say that any customer whose request violated the sincere held beliefs of the provider was allowed to be denied service. This is a matter that they continue to push, even going so far as to intentionally misrepresent the recent SCOTUS ruling regarding the cake shop (In this case, the Court did not rule that a bakery could refuse service, but merely that this particular bakery was denied due process under existing law at the time the complaint was filed, not that the fake news right wing propaganda machine – Fox News and Breitbart – reported that accurately).
But let us take their argument at face value. They are saying that any business is within their rights to deny service to a customer as long as the customer in some way, by their actions outside of the requested transaction, violates the sincerely held beliefs of the business owner. Is this not what happened at the Red Hen or the other Mexican Restaurants? To be fair to the business owners at the Mexican restaurants, it was not the actions of the customer that drove them away from the business, by the business owners. Rather, it was the massive protests and public shaming of the customer by other customers. The case of the Red Hen is different.
In the case of the Red Hen we have an actual business owner who refused to serve a particular customer because the actions of the customer, outside of the business transaction, go against the core beliefs of the business owner. This would seem to be exactly what these conservatives have been arguing for. A customer is engaged in actions that the business owner considers amoral according with their deeply held beliefs, and has decided to deny service, lest they be complicit in the further actions of that customer.
Ah, but now you might say that this customer, Sarah Sanders, is being denied service for her political beliefs and not for some so-called protected class. First, the Right does not recognize these protected classes as protected classes. That much has been apparent in the reactions to the original Court ruling. Further, the Right has sought to establish political affiliation as a class that is not protected in the manner that sex, orientation, race, religion, et al, are protected. Just this week, the Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering does not violate the Constitution, per the arguments of the Conservative government, because political affiliation is not a protected class.
This is now the world that Conservatives have built for themselves. They have argued that discrimination, indeed denial of service, is perfectly ok so long as the person discriminating has a sincere held belief, something that can neither be proven nor disproven, and they have argued that political affiliation is not a protected class. They have, essentially, argued that it is perfectly ok to deny service to Conservatives so long as the person who owns the business is not a Conservative and can show that they are not a Conservative.
This is the fundamental problem with such laws. Everyone should be allowed to eat a restaurant of their choosing without questions asked. But so long as Conservatives argue that this is a matter for the owner to decide, they will be turned away time and time again. And this is exactly what they argued for.