Some Consciences Count More Than Others

On Friday, January 20 at 12 o’clock noon, Donald J. Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. Rarely in modern times has a presidential succession generated such polarized division, though I can imagine that the advent of Thomas Jefferson in 1801, Andrew Jackson in 1829, and especially Abraham Lincoln in 1861 might rival the national atmosphere today. The situations are, of course, so comparable. Thomas Jefferson led the first peaceful handover of power in the new Republic to the opposition party. Abraham Lincoln faced a Republic on the threshold of Civil War. Perhaps the closest approximation to today’s situation was Andrew Jackson’s election: he, too, represented the “basket of deplorables” of his day and was probably as outspoken as the new president. I really don’t wonder what Old Hickory might have done, however, if opponents told him he was “illegitimate” because he wouldn’t let boys use the girl’s room. (I guess back then they had single, “transgender” outhouses.)

What most interests me, however, in the dissenters who keep filling the news everyday with their announcements they will boycott the inaugural festivities.

On January 13, the Washington Post was wracked by the question which undoubtedly caused most Americans to spend the long weekend in vigorous debate: “Will designers choose to dress the new first lady? …  President-elect Donald Trump ran a campaign that framed immigrants, minorities, women, and Muslims as “other,” inspiring new waves of racism and violence. Whether to associate with [the president-elect] has become a moral question. … [C]atering to his wife quickly became an ethical dilemma for designers. Would doing so signal tacit approval of her husband’s scorched-earth tactics?”

See, milliners who collect five figure fees for cutting some cloth are allowed to have pangs of conscience over whether, by dressing a man’s wife, one is complicit in the politics of her husband. Nuns who have to pay for abortion-inducing drugs used by employees should just suck it up. Tom Ford can have qualms of conscience; Franciscans can’t.

(Modeling agencies can apparently also get away with not forwarding a kid’s pictures because he has Down’s Syndrome, a story you probably didn’t hear. Can you imagine if this was some “transgender” kid turned down by an ad agency?)

Or consider the celebrities who have said they will not sing at the Inaugural. They claim their boycott ensures that we not “normalize” President Trump.

See, you can refuse to sing for Donald and Melania, and that’s brave and courageous, a veritable act of patriotism. But if you refuse to sing for Adam and Steve, you are a “bigot” and a “homophobe,” who should at least be boycotted if not dragged before some administrative kangaroo court of a “human rights commission” that will impose fines aimed at driving you into compliance or out of business.

You can refuse to bake a cake for the inaugural ball and be lionized; you can refuse to bake a cake for pseudo-nuptials and be lambasted from sea to shining sea.

The lesson should be evident: there’s one set of rules for the “bags of deplorables” who are “clinging to religion,” another for the beautiful people who, well, make their own rules.

I don’t see any Justice Department or Human Rights Commission sending Sophia Theallet letters that she cannot refuse to provide services to the new first lady.

Let’s be clear: I have no objection to Sophia Theallet or Tom Ford, Celine Dion or KISS or Andrea Bocelli or any of the other artists, singers, designers, or others who either have or been rumored to have refused their talents to the Trump inauguration. It’s their professional talent and they should decide whether they will use or not in support of a particular event.

But why can a Celine Dion refuse but a Jack Philipps can’t? Jack Philipps is the Colorado baker who doesn’t want to make wedding cakes for homosexual “marriages.” Let them eat cake, as long as it’s not to the accompaniment of “My Heart Will Go On.”

Singing at a wedding seems to have the same relationship to an event as baking a cake. The anti-conscience side contends it’s mere provision of a service that does not signify any approval of the event. Well, if that’s the case, we ought to see a gaggle of private jets taking off from New York and Hollywood with flight plans for Reagan National to get crooners, cloth-cutters, and cake bakers to the inaugural.

But if, as these dissidents now seem to have discovered, their presence signifies approval, then why does the same principle not apply in the case of the butcher, the baker, and the picture-taker at same-sex “weddings”?

Taking part in the inaugural, after all, is arguably participation for America, not necessarily for Donald Trump. January 20, 2017 is the 58th time a human being received the highest executive power in the United States, peacefully and legally. Managing to do that for 217 consecutive years is something of an achievement in world history. A nation has a right to celebrate that.

Participation in a same-sex “marriage,” however, inherently means approving the notion that marriage has nothing to do with sexual differentiation, a notion alien to most of human history and still rejected by a significant part of the world (including fellow Americans) today.

Why can’t stars invoke the “Springsteen Principle?” Asked about performing in East Germany in 1988 before the Wall came down, “the Boss” was quoted as saying he was there for rock-and-roll, not the German Democratic Republic. Can’t he be there for America, not the Donald?

I could, of course, list all sorts of other double standards. Why must pro-life demonstrators be shunted off from the entrance of an abortuary, in order not to “disturb” women, but America’s celebration of democratic transition has to showcase plenty of “in-your-face” protestors? The point is simple: there are two sets of rules. What’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.

There are those who have said that the Trump inaugural committee has had problems with lining up an “A-list” of celebrities to perform and so has resorted to a “make America great again” list of whomever it can get. That’s not necessarily bad: there is precedent, when the beautiful people didn’t want to show up at the king’s banquet, for inviting the hoi-polloi from the crossroads, highways, and byways. I even have some suggestions: how about Jack Phillips for cake, Baronnelle Stutzmann on flowers, Elaine Huguenin for photography and, if the chief justice is unavailable, Kim Davis to administer the oath?

John M. Grondelski

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John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ. All views expressed herein are exclusively his own.

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