A closer look at the eye-for-an-eye

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, not welcome at one Red Hen (Shutterstock).

“An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.”

– Attributed to Mohandas Gandhi.

“An eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth would lead to a world of the blind and the toothless.”

– Exodus 21:24.

It’s tough to be a presidential press secretary. You’ve got to stand out there and speak on behalf of a man with whom you may not totally agree. You may find it one of your duties to lie, or to blithely ignore the obvious. You will certainly be mocked by the news media and late night TV.

This tradition and obligation goes back through many administrations. Even “Honest Abe” Lincoln had been known to stretch the truth now and again.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the present press secretary and was recently denied service at a Red Hen restaurant by an owner who didn’t like her politics, or – more likely – didn’t like her bosses’ politics.

This comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court decision supporting the right of a baker to refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, citing a religious objection.

Both cases bring up some interesting constitutional and ethical issues. Can these principles be stretched a bit to cover all kinds of discrimination “by conscience”? May I evoke that flexible and sometimes sea-going notion to close the door to my service club, sports team, nail shop or Christmas tree lot to anyone whose opinions and practices differ from my own?

I can imagine the Main Street of a community divided with Republican businesses on one side and Democrats on the other. There’d be a bar for conservatives and one for liberals. Come to think of it, there’d be at least two Democratic bars, since they can never agree on much of anything.

As silly as that seems, an even more disturbing suggestion came recently from Rep. Maxine Waters of California, who wanted to build on the Red Hen’s controversial action.

“Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up,” she said. “And if you see anyone from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

Wow. That quote was in reference to the emotion surrounding the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents, but it also shows you the times.

The divisions of our society – stoked higher by the inflammatory rhetoric coming from Pennsylvania Avenue – are being widened by the impulse to get just as fiery in response. The potential for an explosion reaches ever-higher. It’s tough to tell whether this is a just a passing national temper tantrum or a deadly new strain of xenophobic virus produced by 24-hour cable news and social media.

In a democracy, decisions are made at the polling place. If your side lost, then work harder, think smarter and care more. Some folks think that in-your-face arguments or heated accusations on Facebook constitute a public service. The truth is that at some point it leaves principle behind and enters the Vanity Zone.

I will try to treat all people with civility. It won’t be easy to do that, especially with folks who I not only disagree with, but who disagree with me most disagreeably. I will seek to remember all the times I’ve been loudly wrong.

If you can’t find the moral argument convincing, think of how you’ll look, all red-faced and shouting, spittle flying. Consider the words of Billy Shakespeare in “Henry V.”

“If the enemy is an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb, is it meet, think you, that we should also, look you, be an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb, in your own conscience, now?”


Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on alternate weeks, usually on a Wednesday. And isn’t “a prating coxcomb” a great insult?









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