One of the more worrisome signs that our cultural divide is getting deeper and more problematic is the way in which politics is entering the choice of businesses, offering yet another way for people to distinguish themselves so they not only read different newspapers or magazines, go to different websites, and watch different news stations, but also shop at different gas stations or eat at different restaurants, or even use different shippers, as a result of political decisions sparking boycotts. This sort of alarming behavior suggests that companies are being pulled into the greater cultural and political divide within our nation, and that consumer behavior is ever more closely reflecting our political as well as economic interests. This suggests a deepening of our divide, and a warning of potential conflict.
Any sort of boycott of a company’s services or product because of political reasons is a sign of the importance of political concerns to someone. During the period before the American Revolution, it was those Americans interested in rebellion against the imperial establishment who boycotted tea. It was also not coincidental that many of the American founding fathers most interested in rebellion (especially in the Virginia) were heavily indebted and involved in land speculation. Government behavior that hurts one’s economic standing does tend to influence the attitude of others in political matters. It is in times of deepening crisis when politics takes on such importance that it enters into one’s mundane business calculations.
And there is no doubt that we are in such a period of crisis right now, and that this crisis is becoming even deeper. Hardly a day passes by where I do not receive from one side or another in our political crisis a call for a boycott of a company because of their politically motivated behavior. Whether it is a boycott of Olive Garden, Papa John’s, or McDonalds for their cutting back of employee hours in order to avoid providing government mandated health care for their employees, or a boycott of UPS because of their activity toward the Boy Scouts, a boycott of BP because of the Gulf disaster of 2010 in one of their deepwater oil rigs, or of Citgo because of their Venezuelan connection and their political use of cheap gasoline targeted to core Democrat states after the 2004 election, or the support of Chick-Fil-A because of their strong cultural stand to support morality, it is clear that business is being closely connected with politics in ways that are entering the calculus of ordinary consumers. All of this means that politics is taking on increasing importance in personal behavior.
This suggests the possibility of companies being run within a particular worldview of forming networks based on their political beliefs, and that the use of different companies may become a sign of political identity. For example, if a buyer chooses to buy Ford rather than General Motors because of their different behavior concerning the government bailout, and then eats at Olive Garden or Chick-Fil-A in support of their rejection of Obamacare, or buys at Wal-Mart because of their commitment to the cheapest possible product, and then ships via Federal Express because of their support of the Boy Scouts of America, one can probably guess that they enjoy the Wall Street Journal and Fox News as well. As the political behavior of companies becomes more obvious, politically inclined individuals can expect to show support to like-minded companies, voting with their dollars and making their business decisions reflect their moral and political worldview.
This has immense consequences. It is already true that the news we read or watch is closely related to our political beliefs. As someone who despises having my own political and religious beliefs mocked and marginalized, I make personal decisions to actively avoid certain biased news sources (Huffington Post, MSNBC, to give two examples) and choose their alternatives. Other people with different worldviews make different sources to find news that reinforces and endorses their own worldview. When we add the choice of different businesses based on worldview, our behavior will become more divided, as we eat at different restaurants, shop at different stores, and use different service companies because of their own political commitments, making us even more divided with even less common ground.
And that can only be a bad thing if we seek to bridge our divisions and understand the genuine concerns at the base of where we stand, whether it is fear of exploitation by government or by business, or a fear of losing independence or being left isolated without the support of a community. There are legitimate concerns on all sides that could be answered without either massive government or seditious behavior, but if no one is inclined to listen, all we will do is become increasingly divided in all aspects of our lives. And that helps no one, not we ourselves nor those we support.