Once upon a time, the raison d’être of US companies was to simply make a buck. Those days are long gone. Today, corporations are in the business of radicalizing the country by taking sides in cultural standoffs.
Just in time for the Fourth of July festivities, which this year celebrates the 243rd anniversary of America’s independence, Nike decided to ignite a political firestorm the size of a Chinese fireworks factory, thereby further dividing the nation.
The Fortune 500 tennis shoe maker, with $30 billion in annual global sales, announced it would cancel the release of its ‘Air Max 1’ trainers after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick told the company “he and others” found the Betsy Ross-era flag that adorned the sneaker “offensive.” Why? Because the symbol was stitched at a time when slavery was still part of the fledgling nation’s experience. And since a handful of right-wing ‘white supremacist’ groups have reportedly been seen waving this flag (as well as former President Barack Obama, incidentally), which celebrates the original 13 US colonies and their successful fight against the British crown, suddenly it is deemed toxic and unworthy of the mighty Nike.
According to this warped logic, anything that came to fruition when slavery was still a thing – up to and including the Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776 – is eligible for eradication in history’s great dumpster fire.
So who is Colin Kaepernick, and why should Nike kneel to his demands? It might be better to say what Kaepernick is not. He is not a historian, he is not a marketing executive, and he is not even a professional football player. Today, Kaepernick could best be described as an activist and an agitator. In 2017, after a year of refusing to stand during the US national anthem in protest against police brutality, he opted out of his NFL contract, eventually settling with the league in a confidential agreement rumored to be worth many millions of dollars.
Incidentally, the ex-athlete starred in a 2018 Nike ad where he was featured before a huge American flag as the narrator said, “Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything.” Does “sacrificing everything” include the very country of your birth, as well as the very flag it represents? Is that really the sort of controversial message a US corporation, built on the solid foundation of American freedom and ingenuity, should be endorsing?
In any case, the bigger question here has little to do with Colin Kaepernick. The real question is: why do so many US corporations feel the need to take sides in the nation’s ongoing culture wars, triggered by political correctness and ‘social justice’ theory gone stark-raving mad? After all, this is not the first time America has passed through the fires of an existential challenge without the need for corporate sponsorship. In the 1960s and 70s, the country nearly tore itself apart during the anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights battles, when violence on the streets between protesters and police was a daily occurrence. These social volcanoes brought to the surface a number of great orators and leaders, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, individuals who did not cheapen their messages and work by appearing on TV with a Coca Cola, for example, or Nike footwear.
Without subscribing to any absurd Illuminati conspiracy theories, it would seem that the largest US corporations have an agenda that goes far beyond the simple capitalistic ambition of turning a profit. Much like the Silicon Valley titans of tech, many Fortune 500 companies simply cannot resist expressing their political views, especially in these turbulent ‘Times of Trump’ when so many otherwise intelligent people have lost their minds. After all, what could be the purpose of a corporation endorsing a fiercely contestable message that alienates at least 50 percent of the American population, not to mention their consumer base?
The Gillette Company provides perhaps the best example of a corporation abandoning its primary mission – in this case, selling razor blades and shaving cream – to endear itself to the social warrior lunatic fringe.
Despite a massive public outcry (1.4 million thumbs down and counting) following Gillette’s puke-inducing lecture ad on ‘toxic masculinity’ which showed American men abandoning their backyard barbecues en masse to (finally) teach their malevolent male offspring that bullying is bad, they waded back into the deep end of the public swimming pool, this time to make a pitch for transgender lifestyles. Without venturing into the politics of the idea, which essentially says that men and women can become the opposite sex regardless of their biological sex at birth, it is enough to wonder exactly what the company hopes to gain by appealing to an infinitesimal segment of the population that risks – once again – alienating millions of dedicated consumers who just want a close shave.
Even ice cream companies now feel the need to flash their political identities while diving headlong into the cultural bloodbath. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, for example, last year unveiled their ‘Pecan Resist’ brand, handcrafted to appeal to those Americans who are “fighting President Trump’s regressive agenda.” Yum! And just like that, the subsidiary of the globe-straddling Unilever Corporation alienated millions of US Republicans who just want to enjoy a good bowl of ice cream, much like their Democratic counterparts. Again, the question must be asked: what kind of corporate strategy actively aims to lose half of its consumer base? Or have these corporations morphed into such vast money-making empires that they can afford to not give a good damn?
In these dizzying days of political correctness a company can get embroiled in a cultural imbroglio without even trying. In 2012, for example, Jack Phillips, the proud owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood Colorado, refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple over his religious convictions. The couple sued and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Phillips was eventually found within his rights to refuse the request on the basis of the freedom of expression. That is a far cry, however, from a Fortune 500 company that actively dumps its ‘personal beliefs’ on the political landscape.
For better or for worse, corporations today have come to dominate nearly every aspect of our waking hours, to the point that it is nearly impossible to imagine performing the simplest tasks without them. Now it seems these monstrosities have become confident enough in their economic and political power that they can lecture consumers on modern issues now dividing the nation. That approach seems to have very little in common with the spirit of capitalism, itself a complicated and controversial project, without the need for gratuitous virtue signaling that exasperates so many people.
Considering everything that is at stake, it would seem far more expedient for corporations to stick to the capitalist credo of making a profit and distance themselves from the cultural battles now raging across the land. Nothing less than the very survival of American democracy, which provides the groundwork for free markets and capitalism, is at stake.
By Robert Bridge