MAGA message ownership

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt wasn't the first business-owner to exploit his status to advance political bigotry.  On January 27, the proprietor of San Mateo, California's Wursthall restaurant boast-tweeted to the world his intention to discriminate against law-abiding supporters of the president of the United States.

It hasn't happened yet, but if you come to my restaurant wearing a MAGA cap, you aren't getting served. Same as if you came in wearing a swastika, white hood, or any other symbol of intolerance.

His tweet drew considerable press attention and criticism.  Perhaps sensing that his profits might plummet, the chef soon apologized (though he did not retract his despicable grouping of patriotic Americans with contemptible, un-American hate groups).

His stilted apology can be dismissed.  When someone shows you who he is, goes the saying, you should believe him.

Were anyone to claim that MAGA hat-wearers secretly mean something other than the plain slogan itself, I would ask from what source he had derived the supernatural ability to peer into others' minds and hearts.

Critics may not superimpose their suspicions and prejudices on everyone else and then act to compel general behavior conforming to them.  But many persist in intolerance and rail against the Constitution's guarantees of individual liberties.

During a discussion on CNN, host Chris Cuomo offered this example: suppose a patron wore an "I hate black people" t-shirt message.  Wouldn't a business owner be within his rights to refuse service to the customer?

Besides being disgusting, that hypothetical message is not open to varying interpretations.  Taken at face value, it explicitly states an inarguably fetid sentiment. 

A MAGA hat, similarly taken at face value, merely asserts that the wearer backs the president and patriotic sensibility. 

Onlookers may interpret that innocuous slogan to mean something nefarious and not what is plainly indicated, but they have no right to exercise editorial control over other citizens' expression.  They are certainly free to contest ideas, but not to punish entire groups by withholding commercial agency.

Larger questions are raised by this incident – for example, is a statement defined by a speaker's sincere intent or a listener's contrary interpretation?  And to whom does a communication belong: its author or random audience members?

Any statement's true quality and ownership lie with its originator.  The audience is secondary.  Theirs is a receptive function. 

Both disagreeing speaker and objector can have a hold on validity.  A statement innocently uttered by one can genuinely give offense to a listener.  The meaning or import of a given remark may differ from one mind to another.

Perhaps the statement reflects some philosophical value that speaker and listener simply do not share.  The debate then becomes one of value integrity. 

But speakers alone should exercise discretion of their own voices – including choice of headgear.

DC Larson is the author of Ideas Afoot: Political commentary, cultural observations, and media analyses.  His writings have appeared in the American Thinker, the Daily Caller, USA Today, and other newspapers.  His political blog is https://americanscenemagazine.blogspot.com.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt wasn't the first business-owner to exploit his status to advance political bigotry.  On January 27, the proprietor of San Mateo, California's Wursthall restaurant boast-tweeted to the world his intention to discriminate against law-abiding supporters of the president of the United States.

It hasn't happened yet, but if you come to my restaurant wearing a MAGA cap, you aren't getting served. Same as if you came in wearing a swastika, white hood, or any other symbol of intolerance.

His tweet drew considerable press attention and criticism.  Perhaps sensing that his profits might plummet, the chef soon apologized (though he did not retract his despicable grouping of patriotic Americans with contemptible, un-American hate groups).

His stilted apology can be dismissed.  When someone shows you who he is, goes the saying, you should believe him.

Were anyone to claim that MAGA hat-wearers secretly mean something other than the plain slogan itself, I would ask from what source he had derived the supernatural ability to peer into others' minds and hearts.

Critics may not superimpose their suspicions and prejudices on everyone else and then act to compel general behavior conforming to them.  But many persist in intolerance and rail against the Constitution's guarantees of individual liberties.

During a discussion on CNN, host Chris Cuomo offered this example: suppose a patron wore an "I hate black people" t-shirt message.  Wouldn't a business owner be within his rights to refuse service to the customer?

Besides being disgusting, that hypothetical message is not open to varying interpretations.  Taken at face value, it explicitly states an inarguably fetid sentiment. 

A MAGA hat, similarly taken at face value, merely asserts that the wearer backs the president and patriotic sensibility. 

Onlookers may interpret that innocuous slogan to mean something nefarious and not what is plainly indicated, but they have no right to exercise editorial control over other citizens' expression.  They are certainly free to contest ideas, but not to punish entire groups by withholding commercial agency.

Larger questions are raised by this incident – for example, is a statement defined by a speaker's sincere intent or a listener's contrary interpretation?  And to whom does a communication belong: its author or random audience members?

Any statement's true quality and ownership lie with its originator.  The audience is secondary.  Theirs is a receptive function. 

Both disagreeing speaker and objector can have a hold on validity.  A statement innocently uttered by one can genuinely give offense to a listener.  The meaning or import of a given remark may differ from one mind to another.

Perhaps the statement reflects some philosophical value that speaker and listener simply do not share.  The debate then becomes one of value integrity. 

But speakers alone should exercise discretion of their own voices – including choice of headgear.

DC Larson is the author of Ideas Afoot: Political commentary, cultural observations, and media analyses.  His writings have appeared in the American Thinker, the Daily Caller, USA Today, and other newspapers.  His political blog is https://americanscenemagazine.blogspot.com.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.