Calls for boycotts by both the left and the right have made everyday errands, from buying socks at Nordstrom to grabbing a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos at a gas station, into political statements. But boycotting companies based on their inferred political opinion is about as effective as shopping for spanx at Home Depot. It incorrectly treats companies as if they were meant to be our moral leaders or political pundits, and it directs vital political drive away from endeavors that have a chance of yielding positive change.
The Trump supporters’ boycott list is a lengthy catalog of companies that includes Nordstrom, which recently dropped Ivanka Trump’s products for low sales, and companies with seemingly pro-immigration or inclusion Super Bowl commercials like Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Airbnb and 84 Lumber. Also on the list is Pepsico, owner of the eponymous soda as well as many other snack brands like Doritos, Ruffles and Lays.
The left is also busy making lists. Shannon Coulter, social media strategist, started the #GrabYourWallet movement, which aims to boycott all companies that sell Trump merchandise. The list includes Amazon, Bath and Body Works and Marshalls. There’s a lot of energy powering boycotts on both sides for limited rewards and ample consequence.
When we confuse spending money with moral endorsement, we reinforce the erroneous idea that companies are like people, and that they should be looked to as moral and political authorities. If citizens are unhappy with the ruling on Citizens United v. FEC, or want big money and special interests out of politics, then there is no reason to legitimize the idea that CEOs should be a part of public politics.
In fact, we should all enjoy a hearty dose of cynicism before believing that companies have set ideology at all. When Nordstrom dropped Ivanka Trump’s clothing brand from their stores, President Donald Trump insisted they treated his daughter “unfairly,” and press secretary Sean Spicer called their actions a “direct attack on his policies.” But a Nordstrom spokesperson explicitly denied that, saying it “was absolutely not political — it was exclusively based on the performance of the brand.”
Advertising also can mislead the public into thinking a company has a particular ideology. Many viewed 84 Lumber’s Super Bowl commercial, with a full cut that featured a Mexican mother and daughter reaching a giant border wall, as a pro-immigration, anti-border wall statement. Yet, Maggie Hardy Magerko, CEO of 84 Lumber is a supporter of Trump and the border wall, and insisted that the commercial was meant to be about “opportunity,” not immigration politics.
Business is business. Activism sells. Advertisers and desk workers might have different ideologies than CEOs. Most companies do not have clear or honest political leanings in the first place, so there is no reason to view them as if they do.
Most importantly, time and energy spent determining which companies to boycott could be redirected toward projects that actually impact our politics. Even the most successful boycott might only lower stock values and anger a few rich people. It is unlikely to change many minds, and it certainly won’t change the minds of the congressmen who vote on the things you care about.
Don’t bother spending five minutes Googling the political leanings of businessmen. Spend five minutes scrolling through your congressman’s voting record to see how their views align with yours, or spend those minutes calling your congressmen to tell them about issues you care about. It is guaranteed that either of these actions will have greater impact on our political climate than refusing to buy your shower curtain from Bath and Body Works.
Doan is a Plan II and English sophomore from Fort Worth.