By Kaihua Zhou | United States
Is it reasonable to serve someone on the basis on their political affiliation? Stephanie Wilkinson, a Virginia restaurant owner, argues that it is. Wilkinson’s decision to refuse to serve White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders remains controversial. While her motives may have been noble, her choice demonstrates considerable moral confusion.
Wilkinson informed Sanders that “the restaurant has certain standards … such as honesty, cooperation, and compassion.” In her eyes, Sanders had violated those standards through her involvement in the Trump administration. Wilkinson’s line of reasoning appears valid. If you feel a public official is corrupt, you have every right to challenge them. Ana Navarro, a CNN commentator, argues that Wilkinson’s choice was courageous. According to her, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is “an accomplice to this cruel, deceitful administration.” Thus, there is no distinction in her mind between Sanders’ moral qualities her political actions.
Approaching a government official and tacitly accusing them of dishonesty and brutality is hardly unique. What is unique in Wilkinson’s case is that her challenge came through denying her restaurant’s service. In her view, serving Sanders would make her an accomplice as well. Consequently, to her, refusing service is an act of personal integrity, showing her commitment to compassion and cooperation. The principle is generally sound.
The moral confusion, however, lies in the application. If we accept the argument that Sanders is an accomplice to brutality, who else is? How would Wilkinson recognize them? 45 percent of Virginians voted for President Trump. Are they complicit in the administration’s alleged brutality? While they did not deliver Virginia’s electoral votes for Trump, it was through their ( and similarly like-minded individuals) efforts that Trump gained office. Should Wilkinson refuse to serve them? If so, she must turn away about half of her state’s residents. Perhaps she can determine that they, despite their politics, are moral people. Perhaps they sinned in ignorance.
If Americans did not recognize Trump’s character in 2016, they have a better understanding now. 41.9% of Americans continue to approve of President Trump’s policies. Are they complicit in Trump’s accused inhumanity? Are they in harmony with Wilkinson’s moral standards? If so, she again must kick out about half of her fellow citizens. Such an outcome would be completely unreasonable. Should Wilkinson and her fellow workers personally ask each of their customers if they support Trump? If so, they would find that many of their customers do not fit their standards.
Of course, having strong moral standards is a solid principle. Wilkinson’s folly, however, is confusing her moral standards with political standards. Are honesty, compassion, and cooperation measured by politics alone? No. There are many honest, compassionate conservatives, liberals, independents, and everything else.
Is Wilkinson in a position to judge Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ qualities? Once again, the simple answer is no. While Sanders is a public figure, Wilkinson does not know her. Instead, she judges her based on her political affiliation. It is an unreasonable choice. There are many reasonable ways to challenge public officials for policies. Refusing to serve based on limited knowledge of someone’s character is not one of them.
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