Joshua Feuerstein has saved Christmas. At least that’s what he said in a recent interview with the Washington Post. Feuerstein was referring to the protest he started last year against the plain red Starbucks holiday cups that got everyone’s knickers in a twist. Some Christians took the snowflake-free cup design as yet another sign that liberals are trying to take the Christ out of Christmas. So Feuerstein encouraged believers to go into their local Starbucks, order a drink, and give their name as “Merry Christmas” so that the barista would have to write it on their cups. Oh, it must be a hoot to work at Starbucks.
The protest apparently worked because this year’s Starbucks cups feature holiday designs, albeit none that are religious. Still, Feuerstein was gleeful, crowing, “And we not only saved Christmas, we elected Donald Trump as our next president and saved the country!” (Chicago Tribune, Nov. 29, 2016) In fact, Trump’s victory has put Starbucks in the crosshairs of the far right once again. This time, Trump supporters are encouraged to give their name as Trump for the side of their drink cup. This has caused a fracas at some Starbucks outlets and led to the complaint that Trump supporters’ First Amendment rights are being violated. (Apparently the savvy baristas realized that these folks’ names were not really “Trump.”)
Well, to begin with, the First Amendment protects our free speech from interference by the government. We are not, however, allowed to say anything we want in a private establishment. (Ask my kids.) Furthermore, it has been the far right – the Trump supporters – who have most vocally denounced public speech that actually is protected by the Bill of Rights. Take the Colin Kaepernick case. Kaepernick spurred outrage by refusing to stand for the national anthem before a 49ers game. He was protesting the racial bias that he believes exists in American society. At the time, I was critical of Kaepernick’s gesture myself. However, I have come to realize that his protest was not only legitimate, but also effective. Across the country, athletes began to make their own peaceful political statements by sitting out the national anthem. The country got to talking not just about Kaepernick’s protest, but about how far we have yet to go in race relations.
A more ironic and sinister move has been President-elect Donald Trump’s call to imprison and/or strip away the citizenship of people who burn the American flag. Having already threatened the free speech of journalists repeatedly during his presidential campaign, Trump now wants to go after the First Amendment rights of protesters. Even conservative Justice Antonin Scalia would have vehemently disagreed with such a move.
Flag burning has always been a potent symbolic gesture of anger and protest against the policies and actions of governments. It has always stirred resentment on the part of some people, which is why it is such an effective act of protest. While I personally do not like any kind of desecration of the flag, including wearing it as an article of clothing or headwear, I agree with the English writer Beatrice Evelyn Hall, who famously characterized the beliefs of the philosopher Voltaire as, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” An attack on flag burning is an attack on the right to disagree with the government. Our right to do so must be zealously guarded.
As for those Trump supporters who want to have their hero’s name written on their Starbucks cups, I say that Starbucks baristas should give them what they want. Imagine the chaos when several drinks come out, all with the name “Trump” on them. Decaf Debbie might be given Double-Shot Fred’s drink. Lactose intolerant Lucy could end up with a nonfat latte while Joe gets the runs from drinking a soy-based peppermint mocha. That would be a delicious comeuppance for people who think the design of a drink cup is going to make America great again.