In the aftermath of Trump and his tsunami of disinformation and lies, small business owners in America are learning the very real cost of demonizing their customers.
By David Todd McCarty | Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Since humans first formed social units that relied on one another for food and safety, shame has been an effective tool to keep members of the group in line. The threat of expulsion had deadly consequences, so staying in the good graces of the tribe was in your own self-interest. As cultures evolved and we developed more complex systems of government and law enforcement, shame remained a way to bolster social guard rails. It might not have been a matter for the courts, but that didn’t mean there weren’t rules that you had to follow or suffer dire consequences.
Here in America, at the start of the 21st century, we are having a moment. A moment where we believe that personal freedom is the zenith of all human endeavors. We champion free speech as if it were the sword of truth itself, but all too often we fall victim to believing that personal opinion, even if factually and demonstrably false, has some inherent value. It does not. It’s like they say, along with assholes, everyone has one, and they’re mostly full of shit.
In this new post-fact, shame-free era we find ourselves in, the new defense against the dark art of lying in public, is the notion that the only real consequences for this previously frowned upon behavior, is to be canceled. The inference here is that being canceled is an unjust punishment, no better than mob-rule. A cultural lynching, in their extremist parlance, for the crime of having an independent thought. The only real crime in this scenario, is to not be woke enough, or politically correct enough, for the radial left intelligentsia.
This is typical Republican gaslighting. Blame the opposition for what you yourself are doing, or better yet, play the victim in a situation where you are the aggressor. Lie, cheat and steal, and when you are caught or called out, claim you are being unfairly punished for having “an opinion.”
This is their new strategy. Engage in dubious conjecture, make misleading statements, or just straight-up lie, and then call it an opinion so you cannot be held to any standard of decency. What used to be held in check with good, old-fashioned shame, now requires a much heftier ballast.
Josh Hawley, the Senator from Missouri, led the charge in questioning the results of the election, did so without any justification or evidence, and most certainly contributed to the subsequent violent insurrection that left five dead, including one police officer. Hawley is now claiming that Democrats, who have filed an ethics complaint again him for trying to subvert democracy, are trying to cancel him. He is the victim, he says, simply because he was “expressing an opinion.”
There was a time when shame kept Americans in check. When being exposed as a liar or a cheat, was enough to bar you from public life, at least for a time. Not anymore. Now you can just claim partisan cancel culture and point your finger at your accuser and insist that they are the guilty party, your honor. If they are threatening your ability to earn a living, all the better.
Nothing in America is as bad as stopping someone from stealing a dishonest buck.
We are seeing this locally in Cape May County, New Jersey, where small business owners and politicians, who long ago jumped on the Trump bandwagon, have claimed all manner of impropriety by members of the Democratic Party, including the governor and the President. They feel zero shame in expressing their opinions on any number of disproven theories from massive election fraud, to blood-thirsty cabals of elite pedophiliacs, and the coming reign of terror of immigrant hoards. They do it publicly. They do it with pride. They have not only actively spread these lies on social media, but they have often proudly championed Trump’s rhetoric as patriotic, demanding that their customers accept this as fact, or get the hell out of their establishment.
We saw this at Elaine’s this summer when the owner’s husband (their distinction, not ours) went on an alleged, drunken tirade simply because a customer confessed to his opinion, after being asked point-blank, that Trump was no good for America and that he planned to vote for Joe Biden. He was subsequently harangued and threatened by the owner, causing them to leave, and fear for their safety.
But when these small business owners are called out for this egregious behavior by residents, customers, and citizens, they typically go on to claim that they are being victimized and harassed. That the radical left is using politics to ruin their businesses and destroy their livelihoods. That this cancel culture, this partisan hackery, is trying to deprive them of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
If this were a domestic situation, with an actual couple, we would call it what it is, domestic abuse. Instead, we call it gaslighting or partisan bickering. We make excuses for them and call for unity. But we should not. We should call it abuse, and stand for it no more.
America’s First Amendment protections to speak freely and openly, to express ourselves as we see fit without fear of recrimination from the government, to bring grievances against said government, should never be abridged. But that doesn’t mean you have the right to profit from hate speech. You may be able to get away with it legally, especially if you live in the right county or state, but you have no Constitutional right to it.
You see, in a free market economy, which Republicans used to admire and promote, we can choose to use our wallets as protected speech as well. We can choose who we want to give our hard-earned dollars to, and who we don’t. We don’t have to dig through someone’s personal life in order to penalize them for their politics, and we could all stand to use the don’t-ask, don’t-tell method.
But if you look, walk and quack like a duck, and then wave a little Nazi flag, don’t be surprised if many of us come to the conclusion that you just might be a Nazi duck. We might also, understandably, decide not to support your business. That’s not cancel culture. That’s a free market.
Because we live in a free society, there is nothing that says I have to work with you. The government doesn’t tell me who to do business with, what to buy, and what to sell. In fact, because we are largely a capitalist society, we are forced to compete with one another. In order to be successful, we have to market ourselves as being a superior alternative to the other guy. We invite customers to choose us, because of the value of the goods and services we offer. All that comes with the caveat, especially in a free market with choices, that we must earn that business. If we fail to do that, we are, in effect, canceled. That’s business.
No one should be expected to leave their values and morality at home. We should not expect anyone to abandon their principles the minute they enter the workplace. But there is a difference between having a personal opinion, belief, or philosophy and forcing that belief system on someone else. There is also a difference between holding a belief and penalizing someone else for not sharing your belief.
I should be able to shop at a Jewish deli without being Jewish myself. I need not observe the sabbath, in order to enjoy a bagel. Neither should I be required to have an opinion one way or another on the Palestine question, in order to simply buy lox, chewing gum, or toilet paper. I should not need to concern myself with the politics of the people who own the deli, in order to engage in a commercial transaction with them. As long as we treat each other with respect, our private lives may remain our private lives.
But if I discovered that the owner of the deli was routinely going off on anti-Arab rants on their Instagram feed, calling for an end to immigration from Muslim shit-hole countries, and insinuating that all Arabs were evil, I might have to think twice about shopping there. If I were myself a Muslim, I might decide that doing business with that person would be an affront, not just to what I believed, but to who I was as a person. It would no longer be a consideration of where to buy my bagels or newspaper. It would not be just a question of allowing politics to get in the way of letting someone earn a living. It would enter into the realm of what sort of world I wished to support with my money. It would, in fact, become, a very personal matter.
As I wrote in an article right after the election, “You can have differences of opinion without intruding on the lives of others. You can worry about the beam in your own eye before pointing out the speck in mine. I can do the same. But when the discussion leaps from the concept that government might use taxes to care for the poor and you respond with an unfounded accusation that someone I admire is sexually abusing children, we are no longer having a reasonable conversation about a matter of opinion. You are assaulting me.”
This is the problem. The Trumpian attack that proffers that anyone who opposes Trump, from Nancy Pelosi to your hippy cousin Joe, is somehow not just wrong, but incorrigibly evil, is a problem. We have abandoned the arena of personal opinions a long time ago, and have clearly entered into a tribal Thunderdome where even the smallest of arguments, are fights to the death.
Just hours before a mob attacked the Capitol building, Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the crowd assembled there, that we “should have trial by combat.” His literal call to arms is what many are doing today in the virtual, online world. They believe they are being called to fight, to the death if need be. They are on the attack. They have a platform and they believe they have a moral obligation to use it. We are their target.
We do not have to respond with violence, but we do have to respond, as silence is complicity. Some in the echo chamber want to pretend like this should not be personal. That it’s not their fault. That the people who stormed the capitol are not to blame.
But this is, in fact, like saying that the guard at the concentration camp was not to blame, only Hitler. The guard was simply led astray, given bad information, and got caught up in the moment. At some point, you really do have to take responsibility for your own beliefs, thoughts, and deeds.
To suggest that we not take it personally when a local business owner spreads disinformation and lies, all in the name of free speech and partisan politics is like suggesting that a victim of domestic abuse was somehow at fault for putting their face in the way of that fist. It’s adding insult to injury and denying the assault ever took place.
The broad brush of condemnation was aimed at all those who opposed Donald Trump for the past four years. We were disloyal snowflakes, weak and unpatriotic. We would be sorry. We would pay. Fortunately, Trump lost, but now we are being subjected to the notion that the election was fraudulent. That it was stolen. That our votes should not have been counted, because “the real Americans” did not win. That these leaders of ours, the people we voted for and who won, aren’t just not their cup of tea, but traitorous, evil, child molesters and criminals.
That feels very different. It feels very personal. It feels aimed at us. It feels aimed at me.
So when I see that you are posting on Facebook that Biden is corrupt, that the election was stolen, and that he’s killing jobs and raising gas prices, you’ll forgive me if I don’t take that as a mere expression of your personal opinion. You should understand if I no longer want to do business with you, and why I might find it to be a moral imperative to let others in my community know how you feel, since you were so eager to express it in the first place.
Everyone likes to talk about the consequences of elections. We should also talk about the consequences of free speech. The only protection that the First Amendment of the Constitution provides you, is protection from the government. It does not give you carte blanche to say whatever you wish, without suffering the consequences of a free market economy. You can think or say whatever you like, but all too often today, the rest of us are also free to respond with our wallets.
Here in Cape May County, Republicans outnumber Democrats by a fair margin, especially when you add in all the unaffiliated voters who tend to caucus with the Republicans. It can be hard for a Democrat to win a local election, because all too often, the numbers just aren’t there. But that’s in an election.
If you’re a local business, can you really afford to alienate 40% of your market? Depending on the industry you’re in, that number might even be much higher. What percentage of your market share are you willing to give up as a cost for your right to say whatever you want, whenever you want, to whomever you want? Most people can’t afford to lose 20% of their business and expect to survive, let alone 40% or more.
From a strict business standpoint, if you own a local business, you would be well-advised to refrain from engaging in the demonization of any group, let alone the crass attempt to dehumanize what could very well be your next customer. Just as a sound business philosophy.
It would be a crying shame, if you found yourself canceled, as you like to call it now, for expressing an unpopular opinion. If you’re not careful you will have the chance to argue how fair that is from the unemployment line, along with all those other takers you can’t stand. But you also might end up with a much different appreciation for socialism after all.
No shame in that.