THE BLOG
12/11/2014 10:56 am ET Updated Feb 09, 2015

Could Your Politics Get You Canned?

We're coming dangerously close, in this country, to returning to a time when political leanings are no longer simply regarded as differing opinions and opportunities for healthy debate, but a means to pass judgment and even to discriminate against a person who doesn't hold the exact same views or see the world in the precisely same way.

We've been reduced to two warring tribes: One that, apparently, wants to give everything away to everyone for free and the other that, also apparently, wants to take everything from everyone and hand it over to a few. There's a divisiveness in politics today, fueled by fear and propaganda, that goes beyond simple discussions about policy and personal choice. All one has to do is look to the comments on articles and blog posts to see that the nation has lost its collective mind.

Last week I wrote about a bill making its way through Congress that would potentially result in tax breaks for the rich and higher taxes for the poor, working class, and what's left of the middle class. Peppered throughout the 400-plus comments were not only the usual ignorant comments from trolls and people who seem to lack the ability to spell and speak in complete sentences, but personal attacks, name-calling, and even threats of violence.

Not so long ago, the entertainment industry in this country was targeted with sweeping accusations, ruining the lives of many working in the industry.

"The Hollywood blacklist--as the broader entertainment industry blacklist is generally known--was the mid-20th-century practice of denying employment to screenwriters, actors, directors, musicians, and other U.S. entertainment professionals because of their suspected political beliefs or associations. Artists were barred from work on the basis of their alleged membership in or sympathy with the American Communist Party, involvement in progressive political causes..."

The attitude of the 1940s and 1950s, much like the attitudes that are prevalent today, filter down to average citizens. People become suspicious of their neighbor, co-worker, family member, and friend. There's a palpable shroud of distrust, suspicion, and anger that permeates daily life. The era of McCarthyism was not our finest as a nation.

The fear of retaliation or retribution for one's political views is still very real today. There's no federal law that protects a person's personal views. According to workplacefairness.org, only a handful of states (California, New York, and Washington, D.C.) have laws specifically making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of an employee's political activity or affiliation, while two more states (Colorado and North Dakota) prohibit discrimination on the basis of "lawful conduct outside of work." So, as long as they all live in New York and California, today's entertainers appear to be safe.

Over the last couple of weeks I spoke with several people on Facebook and Twitter to get a sense of where people stood on this issue. Many of them, alarmingly, admitted to not posting or not liking an article they agreed with out of fear of retribution or being judged by their boss or co-workers. There is a prevailing sense that their livelihood could be in jeopardy because of their political or social opinion.

What's surprising and disconcerting about this is that the fear and trepidation is fairly new. So while the threat and odd lack of protection against it has always been there, the sense that it could actually happen is fairly recent.

I started asking around because of my own recent experience with this issue. Admittedly, my views have never been a big secret. I've been writing about social and political issues since the financial meltdown in 2009. I started writing about foreclosures and mortgages when 11 million people were losing their homes to fraud. I made enough of a splash that my wife, who was looking for work at the time after having been laid off, made a point of not using my last name anymore. Ironically, she had a job interview in 2011 that was going very well, when in hour five of the process, it came time to meet with the General Manager. He happened to be carrying a copy of that day's Boston Globe neatly tucked under his arm, folded to an article about anti-foreclosure activists with my mug plastered on the page. She never got a call back.

Recently, I reached out to a good friend of mine who's played a significant role as a mentor to me over the last few years and was invaluable when I decided to start a business developing websites for attorneys, advocates, and businesses. She's a volunteer at SCORE, "a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship." They are sponsored, in part, by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and have a substantial network of volunteers they claim provide advice and guidance to entrepreneurs and startups. During our conversation I had mentioned that I wanted to look into getting a few paid writing gigs and was wondering how to go about that. Since SCORE has a vast network of professionals, she offered to reach out to a few who had worked in publishing and print on my behalf.

It's important to mention that I'm a blogger at HuffPost and that HuffPost bloggers don't get paid -- it's a tradeoff. They get us for free and we get access to a potential 36 million readers every month. So in the world of doing things for exposure, it seems, at least to me, a pretty fair trade. While I write primarily about political and social issues on HuffPost, it would require a myopic view of the world to assume that I'm limited to only those topics. I'm no novelist, nor do I aspire to be one. I worked as a newspaper reporter back when paper and ink were the norm; written software manuals; and provided content for websites I've developed. I've written for and about scooters, HVAC, photography, dog toys, dog supplies, masturbation month, attorneys, consumer issues, punctuation, and television shows.

The variety of articles and topics was made pretty clear to whomever my mentor reached out to and it came as a bit of a surprise to the both of us when his response was, "Sorry, but Zombeck is going to have to pursue his leftwing agenda without my help." A myopic view to say the least. I would hate to have this guy passing out the life jackets based on party affiliation while the ship is sinking.

It's probably safe to assume that not all of the "mentors" at SCORE are this selective about who they'll help. The ones that are, hopefully show a little more restraint and intellect than to voice their disdain out loud and in writing. It does raise the question, however, of exactly what kind of help you're getting from someone who secretly hates you based on your views, beliefs, and whatever else they come up with. Is there any supervision or oversight?

The software manuals I wrote weren't for the DNC Twitter feeds, the dogs weren't commies, the scooters and HVAC stories weren't part of some socialist anti-fossil fuel plot, and I'm pretty sure that masturbation isn't a uniquely liberal activity, but this guy chose to hone in on the one area that made me impossible to work with.

SCORE's own Mission, Vision and Values includes the following entry:

Diversity Matters: We believe in the importance, value and power of diversity - diversity of people and diversity of thought. The diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, geography, and experience is important and valuable in SCORE. We strive to achieve diversity of our volunteer corps, staff, board and clients.

With the exception, apparently, of people they disagree with politically. Think about that. This is a federally sponsored organization created to help people start and successfully run businesses. Businesses that create jobs, pay taxes, and add to the overall value of their communities and the country. But if you're a liberal, in this guy's world, they don't want any part of you.

I'm a heterosexual white guy living in America, so I'm in no position to claim to know what discrimination could possibly feel like. I've had to endure my fair share of personal attacks. My last name lends itself to the elementary school name-calling of "zombie," and of course there's my first name. Even now, at 50 years old, those never get old. Full-grown adults still make sure it appears in the comment section of some posts to this day. Full-grown adults who still think it's witty to make fun of someone's name. Occasionally I'll get the requisite "dumb Pollack," also because of my name. Then there's the slew of insults about not bathing, eating cheese, and calling me a socialist because I'm French on my mom's side. That said, I've never had to worry about driving through a white neighborhood after dark, been pulled out of line at the airport because of the clothes I'm wearing, been denied an apartment or entrance to a restaurant, or been stared down because of the color of my skin, sexual orientation, or religion.

People like the guy mentioned above are hopefully a rarity at SCORE. At least one would hope they are. The GOP is quickly becoming the party of old white men and I don't see a lot of them starting businesses. Who knows what other criteria for helping people isn't met among the mentors, when in this case it was as benign as differing political views?

It sets a dangerous precedent and sends a disconcerting message when an organization that claims to be a national resource for businesses allows those that represent it to cherry pick who they will help based on a personal bias. Particularly when that organization is sponsored by a government agency.