Boycotts Clarify Issues (2017 Mar)

by Barry A. Liebling

Partisan Democrats and leftist activists are bitterly frustrated and angry. They had no doubt that their candidate Hillary Clinton would secure the presidency, and when their expectations were shattered by the election of Donald Trump their world fell apart. How do disheartened enthusiasts for Mrs Clinton channel and express their emotional pain? Many have reported that they feel clinically depressed. Some have decided to take action, and do everything they can to undermine the legitimacy of the Trump administration – including mass demonstrations and pledges to deliberately undermine the president while seeking impeachment proceedings. It is noteworthy that in 2008 and 2012 Republicans were similarly disappointed by their loss but did not stage dramatic tantrums. If leading Democrats recognize this lack of symmetry they have not commented on it. They probably believe that their emotional outbursts are justified because anything endorsed by the leftist inner circle is good and true, while any opposition is proof of depravity and low intelligence.

One of the ways Democratic loyalists are responding to their defeat is to call for boycotts of companies that are doing business with or showing any sympathy for the Trump presidency. According to the Washington Times more that 250 firms have been identified as miscreants that must be shunned until they cut all ties with “the Trump family.” To illustrate how broad the list is notice that Amazon, Walmart, and T.J.Maxx made the don’t-shop-at cut. Of course, as you would anticipate, there are some pro-Trump organizations that are urging their members to boycott companies that have “been unfair” to the president including Budweiser and Kellogg’s (because they stopped advertising at Breitbart).

What will the consequences be if Democratic operatives continue to demand that citizens participate in their boycotts? Perhaps (yet again) things will not turn out as the activists expect.

Consider ordinary citizens. Those who are committed to the leftist narrative will feel inspired to participate and tell anyone who will listen that they are part of the “progressive resistance” against the Republican regime. Keep in mind that fewer than half of the citizens in the United States are consistently leftist. But among the cultural elite (the education establishment, the legacy media, the entertainment industry, the largest high-technology firms, career government employees) a passionate loyalty to the leftist vision is the default. They will feel good about adjusting their shopping habits and proclaiming they are on the “right side of history” (an expression that comes straight from Marxism).

But citizens who are not part of the leftist movement will not be so impressed. Note that this includes both those who are interested in politics (think of conservatives and libertarians) as well as those who are not involved in any political activities (probably the largest segment of citizens). They will be annoyed by the harangues for a boycott and will be unlikely to comply. The interesting part is that the louder and more persistent the boycott advocates are, the more they will be seen as irritants. There will be a backlash, and some citizens will harden their opposition to the Democratic party. An increasing number of people will hear and vigorously reject the fallacious mantra that anyone not on board with the leftist agenda is – by definition – a racist, a fascist, a xenophobe, a misogynist, a homophobe, and against science.

While boycotts are intended to bring harm to targeted companies, it is noteworthy that the success rate is not impressive. Business enterprises usually endure whether or not they give in to protestors’ demands. For several years people of the left have urged everyone to refrain from eating at Chick-fil-A because the owners are opposed to gay marriage. Some conservatives have purposely avoided purchasing Ben & Jerry’s ice cream because the founders are outspoken boosters of left-wing causes. In each case the companies were able to thrive despite the best efforts of their citizen adversaries.

But the management teams of businesses will still be affected by the increased intensity of Democratic calls to ostracize companies that are not marching in lock-step. Executives will be encouraged to think about the consequences of taking any political stance. Marketers will appreciate that to endorse one side over the other (the leftist avant-garde versus everyone else) is to potentially lose business with the other side. If the goal is to maximize sales, the prudent move for many firms will be to proclaim neutrality. For example, a company could say, “We have employees and customers with a wide range of political persuasions, and we are glad to do business with them.”

Alternatively, top management might decide that maximizing sales is not so important as running the business in a way that is consistent with the owner’s political beliefs. There are enough potential customers on both sides of the divide to allow businesses such as Chick-fil-A and Ben & Jerry’s to prosper.

Notice what is new here is that loudly screaming for boycotts encourages listeners to think more about the implications of leftist politics. It is clarifying issues that may not have been thought about previously. The net outcome may be very different from what activists are anticipating.

*** See other entries at in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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