Editor’s note: Jon Margolis is VTDigger’s political columnist.
Robert Burns, you should be living at this hour. Vermont could have used you this week. We have our own “unco guid.”
That’s the “rigidly righteous” in more common English, those who see themselves “Sae (so) pious and sae holy,” they’ve “naught to do but mark and tell Your neibors fauts and folly.”
OK, there’s a bit of un-poetic license being taken here. When he wrote his “Address to the Unco Guid” in 1786, Burns was thinking less of politics than of class and religion. His “Unco Guid” were the oh-so-pure-and-pious who scorned those they considered lesser beings.
What plagues Vermont now is a coterie of puffed-up partisans who take themselves very seriously and are so convinced of their own rectitude and so determined to express themselves that they don’t care who gets hurt in the process.
But they are also our fellow citizens, so let’s treat them more gently than they treat some of their fellow citizens.
It isn’t that there was nothing to be upset about. For the first time in the memory of any living soul (or maybe ever) a president of the United States displayed an appalling ignorance of what the United States is. For the first time in decades (or ever), a president who had a chance to try to unite the country chose to do the opposite. It was enough to make a person want to do something.
But is it too much to ask that the something be tasteful and intelligent?
Hearing that President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner might be headed to a wedding in or around Waitsfield, a few Vermonters decided to hold a protest vigil at the intersection of Main and Bridge streets in the center of town.
Where they might have disrupted the wedding party of a bride and groom and their families, none of whom, to anyone’s knowledge, had done diddly-squat to hurt anyone or to deserve harassment.
The wedding, it seems, was neither in nor near Waitsfield. Bungling advance work, which perhaps explains why (as shown in a photograph of the event) a mere 27 demonstrators showed up. So it was bungled politics all around. Going to the wrong place and managing only a paltry turnout are signs of ineptitude, which is politically damaging even if it allows a few to feel better about themselves. The average person looking at the confusion, the weakness and the potential annoyance of innocent people is more likely to be repelled than attracted.
But all that was mere comic incompetence. The malice came later. Thanks to the latest technology, it is possible to identify many of the participants among the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.
One Vermonter was so identified: 28-year-old Ryan Roy of Burlington, who worked as a pizza cook at Uno Pizzeria and Grill in South Burlington.
Whereupon some of Vermont’s modern version of the “unco guid” – scores? Hundreds? It makes no difference – flooded Uno’s management with tweets and emails threatening to boycott the place if Roy continued to work there.
So he was fired.
And a fat lot of good that did. Pizza’s flavor does not change in accordance with the enlightenment or lack thereof of its bakers. Racist propaganda is not transferrable through pepperoni. The world is no safer or more tolerant because Roy is unemployed. It may be less so.
There’s also the question of just where all this ends. Passions run high on all sorts of issues these days. Suppose animal rights advocates pressured private businesses to fire hunters, or hunters threatened to boycott firms that employed vegetarians. Will we come to a point where conservatives shop only at stores where none of the clerks favor Medicare for all, or liberals decline to buy from an anti-abortion shopkeeper?
Ryan Roy is a very confused fellow. He told a reporter the other day that “our country was a white country until the 1965 … Immigration Act.”
No, Mr. Roy, it was not, and according to its law and official documents it was never intended to be. The U.S. Constitution (check the 14th Amendment) says that those Mexican-, Somali- and China-born people who took their oaths of citizenship just the other day are as American as you. That “blood and soil” slogan your fellow marchers (and you?) chanted is anti-American at its core.
Here there is no mystical connection between ethnicity and citizenship. The connection is not mystical and it is not with blood. It is with ideas: political democracy, individual freedom, the rule of law, human equality.
But that’s precisely why Roy should be talked to, not injured. The talking could include criticism, some of it harsh. But getting him fired is the opposite of talking to him. It makes it harder to talk to him. Chances are that not only he but his family and his neighbors – many of whom probably do not share his racial delusions – are now more bitter at what they consider (somewhat accurately) the moderate-to-liberal establishment that cost him his livelihood.
Pizza cook may not be a great job. But it’s better than no job. Roy is better off if he has a job. You and I are better off if he has a job, too, and so are those who pressured Uno’s to fire him, whether they know it or not.
And whether they know it or not, Ryan Roy is their fellow citizen (and ours). That doesn’t protect him from being criticized. But perhaps it should protect him from being impoverished. If he is willing and able to work, let him work.
A boycott is a reasonable political tactic if the product being boycotted is unsafe or unhealthy, or if it is produced by workers who are mistreated on the job.
Threatening a boycott because an employee’s social views are repugnant is a subjective conceit. Just what can be expected from those who consider themselves “sae pious and sae holy.”