Viewpoints

What’s wrong with Trump boycotts

Fashion meets politics in the expanding boycott of Ivanka Trump’s products. Karin Klein says the boycotts for and against Donald Trump are nothing like the ones that brought social change.
Fashion meets politics in the expanding boycott of Ivanka Trump’s products. Karin Klein says the boycotts for and against Donald Trump are nothing like the ones that brought social change. The Washington Post

Tell you what, the liberal said to the Trump supporter: I’ll boycott Macy’s because it carries Ivanka Trump, and you can boycott Kellogg’s because it pulled its advertising from that sickening Breitbart website.

Then I’ll boycott New Balance because it said one mildly positive thing about Trump after the election, and you can boycott the Broadway show “Hamilton” because the actors said one mild thing against him after the election. Of course, I’ll respond by purchasing extra Special K and you’ll buy a new pair of New Balance shoes.

Together we can make a bunch of not terribly meaningful gestures, which will result in some cases in helping the very company we intended to harm and in other cases will hurt innocent workers a lot more than the target.

Boycotts are a time-honored tool for bringing about social and political change. At their best, they are specific and goal-oriented, not simply to say we’re mad about something.

And mad we are. Well, who wouldn’t be, after the election of a bully as president? Then those who voted for that bully get mad at the other side for getting mad.

Some angry people circulated a thoughtless list of boycotts for the coming days. “I’m boycotting Macy’s,” a friend tells me, working from that list. Why Macy’s? Did it make a major donation to Trump? Voice support for racism? No, the store sells Ivanka Trump’s clothing line.

Couldn’t my friend just refuse to buy those clothes? No, she said, Macy’s has to stop selling Ivanka clothes altogether. So does Amazon.

But Ivanka Trump is a tiny part of these retailers’ offerings. And both Macy’s and Amazon sell the wares of plenty of other designers, many of whom were not Trump fans – Diane von Furstenberg, for example, who ardently backed Hillary Clinton and publicly asserted unflattering things about Trump. Trapped between the Trump haters and the Trump products are a whole lot of innocent companies and store clerks who stand to lose money and jobs.

There’s a special irony to the shunning of Macy’s because guess who else called a boycott on it? In mid-2015, Macy’s dropped its line of Donald Trump products, saying it was unwilling to do business with someone who said such hateful things about Mexican immigrants. Trump then tweeted – ah, those tweets –that anyone who favors “tight border security” should boycott Macy’s.

The anti-Trump boycotters of Macy’s are, it turns out, making their most hated man quite happy. And Macy’s is probably trying to figure out how to make anybody happy these days.

Pretty much any boycott is going to catch a few innocents in the crossfire. But think of the iconic boycotts that accomplished great things. The Montgomery, Alabama, bus system – targeted by black riders during the 1950s after Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat – was a daily insult and a potent symbol of segregation. The Delano grape boycott of the late 1960s didn’t tell shoppers to stop going to supermarkets that sold grapes; it targeted the non-union grapes and led to the signing of a union contract for farm workers.

Great boycotts aim for change, not general destruction. They target their message and most importantly, they do a lot more good than collateral damage. They’re the result of sober thought and strategic planning, not snit fits.

Karin Klein is a freelance journalist in Orange County who has covered education, science and food policy. She can be contacted at karinkleinmedia@gmail.com.

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