WASHINGTON – Everything is politics, and high school never ends.
I coined that phrase, appropriately enough, back in high school, sort of as a joke. But 40 years later, in an era where eating at a restaurant or baking a cake can morph into a political act, that phrase rings true. Maybe too true.
Proof can be found in places as diverse as the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., and the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo. There, and elsewhere, the Golden Rule seems to have been supplanted by the moral equivalent of a loud scream, saying: "I'm right and you're wrong."
To prove that thesis, let's begin with the Golden Rule. Found in various versions in various religions, it comes down to this: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Clearly this rule was not put into practice when and after the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave last week, all because of her politics. Protesters stormed the restaurant Tuesday, and others took to Yelp to savage every restaurant in the nation that just so happens to be named the Red Hen – even the closed ones! – even though none of them have anything to do with the place that turned away Sanders.
Nor was the Golden Rule followed, really, when Colorado baker Jack Phillips decided to refuse service to a gay couple that wanted one of his wedding cakes. Phillips argued that his Christian faith prevented him from baking a wedding cake for gays, and the Supreme Court – in a very narrowly drawn ruling – agreed that Phillips had "sincere religious objections" that had to be respected. Obviously, then, Phillips valued his faith-based animus toward homosexuality much more than the faith-based call to treat everyone with respect.
Now these are just two of countless examples of the politicization of everything, a practice that owes much to the man in the White House. This supposed outsider, this non-politician, took to Twitter to bash the Red Hen, to bash Arnold Schwarzenegger, to praise Kanye West. And so on.
So yes, everything is politics now.
But isn't it all sort of high-schoolish, too?
You remember high school: the cliques, the insults, the humiliations. It wasn't easy. Yet now, the most politically involved among us on both left and right are, on a daily basis, re-creating a high school atmosphere where you must be part of one clique or the other – and where the erstwhile student council types, through the very wisdom that supposedly infuses their souls, quite obviously think they know better than anybody else.
"This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals,” harrumphed Red Hen owner Stephanie Wilkinson after removing Sanders from her artisan cheese plate.
Similarly, Phillips cited his faith in refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. "What a cake celebrating this event would communicate was a message that contradicts my deepest religious convictions, and as an artist, that’s just not something I’m able to do," the artiste said.
This is not peaceful protest. This is not civil disobedience aimed at powerful, corrupt institutions. This is turning public spaces, restaurants and bakeries, into political forums.
And this is how America divides itself into two camps that hate each other: with small, individual actions, with people taking strong stands that won't change anything and that won't accomplish anything except make people on the other side mad.
It's a perilous path to follow for liberals, conservatives and journalists alike. It means a hardware store owner can feel free to post a sign that says "No Gays Allowed" just because he thinks the Supreme Court thinks it's OK. It means a guy with a "Make America Great Again" hat can be refused service in a bar – which is just what one bar in Chicago plans to do. And it means everyone this Briefing offends, and I am sure there will be plenty, could deny me service at their business because of it.
Is that the kind of country we want to live in?
A Facebook friend of mine said no, in an eloquent post in which he spelled out a more civil alternative.
"Just let people eat," he wrote. "Just bake the damn cake. Just give the person a room. You may not agree with a person’s religion/politics/job/sexual orientation but if the script were flipped and you walked into a place of business, you would not want to be treated this way. Human decency can transcend politics, and particularly if you’re selling something, just take their damn money."
And while that last phrase may sound a bit cynical, my Facebook friend – no stranger to politics – ended his post on a more uplifting note:
"Surprise people by welcoming them, and everyone will be better off."
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Story topics: The Briefing