Culture

Dissent Is Fashionable Again

Ivanka and Melania Trump in New York on primary night, April 19, 2016. (Reuters photo: Carlo Allegri)
If fashion designers can refuse service to the Trumps based on principle, why can’t bakers and florists follow their own principles?

There’s nothing quite like a change of power to expose hypocrisy. Yesterday, the Washington Post ran a long and flattering discussion of fashion designers who are just in anguish that their artistic talents could be abused in the service of a cause they despise. In other words, they don’t want to “dress” Melania or Ivanka Trump.

In an open letter rejecting the idea of working with the Trumps, designer Sophie Theallet said, “We value our artistic freedom, and always humbly seek to contribute to a more humane, conscious, and ethical way to create in this world.” She said, “As an independent fashion brand, we consider our voice an expression of our artistic and philosophical ideas.”

Post fashion critic Robin Givhan doesn’t just report on this choice, she goes out of her way to justify and explain it:

Like other creative individuals, Theallet sees fashion as a way of expressing her views about beauty and the way women are perceived in society. Fashion is her tool for communicating her world vision. In the same way that a poet’s words or a musician’s lyrics are a deeply personal reflection of the person who wrote them, a fashion designer’s work can be equally as intimate. In many ways, it’s why we are drawn to them. We feel a one-to-one connection.

You see, “clothes are commodities, certainly, but they also have an artful point of view that is distinctly personal.” That’s why, Givhan says, refusing to dress the Trumps “is not the equivalent of refusing service.” And so, Givhan concludes, “for those designers for whom fashion serves as their voice in the world, they should not feel obligated to say something in which they do not believe.”

I agree with Givhan. Don’t make anyone “dress” political figures they don’t like. Don’t make any artists use their talents to advance viewpoints they find offensive. There are designers who are happy to work with Trumps. Others aren’t. Big deal. Life goes on.

But if there is a single person who thinks that Sophie Theallet, Marc Jacobs, Derek Lam, and others have a right to refuse to dress the Trumps, but also believes that Christian bakers, photographers, and florists have to use their talents to celebrate gay weddings — there’s a word for you: Hypocrite. Indeed, you’re likely worse than a garden-variety hypocrite. You’re almost certainly malicious and elitist to boot.

Consider the parallels. Photographers, bakers, and florists are using their individual artistic talents not just to document but to celebrate an event. Many of them enter their profession to express their own views about “beauty” and do their work to glorify God. Their art is their best tool for “communicating their world vision.”

When a baker or florist works with gay men and women all the time and just draws the line when they’re asked to help celebrate a same-sex wedding, they’re objecting to a particular idea, not refusing service based on status.

But all too many on the Left just don’t care. All that matters is that they refused to use their artistic talents for a gay couple. And aren’t LGBT people protected from discrimination? But wait, aren’t Melania and Ivanka also women? And aren’t women a protected class under nondiscrimination law also?

You begin to see the silliness of the argument. Yes, Melania and Ivanka are women, but that’s incidental and irrelevant compared with their political identity. The designers aren’t refusing to dress the Trumps because of their gender but because of their presumed worldview. Similarly, when a baker or florist works with gay men and women all the time and just draws the line when they’re asked to help celebrate a same-sex wedding, they’re objecting to a particular idea, not refusing service based on status. If a black baker refuses to bake a Confederate-flag cake, is he refusing because of the race of the customer or the symbolism of the flag?

Here’s where the malice and elitism come into play. We’ve come to expect that famous progressives will run their businesses to advance their politics. We’ve come to expect that progressive artists will take every opportunity to preach their gospels. These same progressives have come to expect the thunderous applause of elite media and their peers when they do.

But where’s the same regard for the rights of others? Where’s the same concern for the small-town florist or baker? No, those people need to be crushed — to be fined and driven out of business until they conform to the cultural elite. They need to be ruined and reeducated. “Free speech for me but not for thee” is forever the cry of the powerful, and now it’s supplemented with a form a sneering condescension against those who disagree – especially if they disagree on religious grounds.

I wonder, do those designers truly love liberty, or do they just hate Trump? Is the right of free speech so precious that they’d defend it even for those who disagree? Or is it merely a means to an end, to be used and respected only for the sake of “social justice?”

Perhaps now, in the age of Trump, the Left will relearn the lessons of the past and remember the value of our most precious liberties. After all, “if there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” That’s a principle that applies to florist and fashion designer alike.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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