A wise man once said, “It’s hard to be a saint in the city.”
I don’t think The Boss was referring to either Donald Trump or purchasing shoes when he wrote his early song, but Bruce Springsteen’s lyric came to mind when I was trying to buy a new pair of athletic training shoes.
First, some background.
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1. I have a wide foot – size 4E;
2. Not many shoemakers make sneakers with such widths, and
3. The president of the United States is a bully, a narcissist, a bigot, a misogynist and a threat to humanity, and I have proudly joined the resistance to his administration.
Let me explain the connection among all of the above.
New Balance has always been an exception among the manufacturers of athletic footwear because of its production of shoes with wide widths. Over the years I’ve been a loyal New Balance customer, purchasing the company’s cross-trainers, running shoes, basketball shoes and hiking boots.
But soon after the presidential election New Balance’s vice president for communications, Matt LeBretton, told the Wall Street Journal that “we feel things are going to move in the right direction” after Trump’s election.
I wrote New Balance a letter of protest, one of many complaints it received in response to LeBretton’s pro-Trump remarks. A New Balance representative replied promptly, sending me a company statement that said it was only supporting Trump’s manufacture-in-America position, just as it supported similar buy-American positions taken by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
I’m all for buying U.S.-made products when possible and practical, but I’m not buying New Balance’s response – and I’m no longer buying New Balance shoes.
Then my pair of New Balance cross-trainers started falling apart, and I began looking for a replacement that wasn’t made by such a Trump-stained company.
I discovered that Under Armour also manufactured a training shoe in the size I needed, also made in the United States. So I ordered a pair. The shoes recently arrived in the mail. They fit perfectly.
On the same day I started wearing my new shoes I learned that Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour, said in a recent interview on CNBC, “To have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country … He wants to make bold decisions and be really decisive … So there’s a lot that I respect there.”
When informed that Plank had described Trump as an “asset,” Under Armour’s most celebrated athlete-endorser, the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry, said, “I agree with that description if you remove the ‘et’.”
Bravo to Curry for his statement. Unfortunately for Curry, he’s under contract with Under Armour until 2024.
I am not.
So I am returning my very comfortable new sneakers to Under Armour, along with a note explaining that while Under Armour’s CEO has the right to extol the alleged virtues of our new president, I have the right to no longer do business with Under Armour.
Back in the 1990s, I stopped buying Nike sneakers because they were produced by poorly paid laborers working in sweatshops in Indonesia and Vietnam. But to Nike’s credit, CEO Phil Knight acknowledged the problem (after boycotts and protests, to be sure) and changed his company’s practices by raising wages and improving working conditions in its overseas factories. And I applaud the statement of current Nike CEO Mark Parker in opposition to Trump’s attempt to ban the immigration of Muslims from seven countries. Still, I assume that Nike continues to pay its Asian workers a lot less than New Balance and Under Armour pay their American workers.
Which brings me back to The Boss.
It’s hard to be a saint in this metaphorical city we live in. I understand that it is impossible to live a life untainted by the worst aspects of global capitalism, whether American-style corporate capitalism, Chinese-style state capitalism, Russian-style crony capitalism or any other variety. As much as I regret this, I will undoubtedly continue purchasing products made by corporations that pay their workers too little and their executives too much, destroy our land and water, treat women as second-class employees, and exploit countries that are less powerful than ours.
I am certainly no saint. But sometimes one has to take a personal stand. To me, that means not knowingly supporting businesses that are cozying up to this president and what he stands for. It means using whatever power I might have as a citizen to oppose Trump, from demonstrating to boycotting.
It would be too easy to simply say I won’t stay at a Trump hotel or play golf at a Trump course. The hotels are too garish for my taste and too expensive for my income, and I don’t play golf.
So I’m starting with what I put on my feet. I still need a pair of athletic shoes that are comfortable and conscionable for all the protesting I’ll be doing in the coming years.
Bruce Dancis, a former arts and entertainment editor of The Bee, is the author of “Resister: A Story of Protest and Prison during the Vietnam War” (Cornell University Press, 2014). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.