Froma Harrop: Corporate America rescues democracy
Americans are putting their consumer dollars on the side of democracy.
The board of Goya Foods has just forbidden its CEO, Robert Unanue, from talking to the media without first obtaining board permission. Do you know how extraordinary that is? Well, these are extraordinary times.
A month after the deadly attack on the Capitol, Unanue has continued to spread the false claim that prompted it -- that former President Donald Trump was denied a second term because of voter fraud. He told Fox Business that Joe Biden's election was "unverified" and that there was a "war coming." That was the last straw for the Goya board.
Business decisions obviously play a part in companies' decision to risk losing some customers in defense of the democracy. They are exposing themselves to the type of political controversy they habitually avoid.
No executive has tied himself more tightly, by the ankles and wrists, to Trumpian conspiracy theories than Mike Lindell, founder and head of MyPillow. And that has made his brand toxic to many consumers. Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl's, H-E-B and Wayfair are among the retail giants to drop the MyPillow line. For many shoppers traumatized by the insurrection, just seeing that brand on the way to the shower curtains reawakens their disgust.
Twitter cut off Lindell as well, not only his personal account but also the MyPillow account. Dominion Voting Systems has already sued Trump ally Rudy Giuliani for knowingly spreading lies that its machines produced fraudulent results and is now threatening to go after Lindell for defamation, big time. Legal scholars say Dominion's case is strong and MyPillow could have its clock cleaned.
On the finance side, Shopify has taken down Trump's online stores. Stripe, PayPal and Square have stopped helping Trump World process payments. Deutsche Bank, Trump's one remaining major banker, says it's now through with him.
The PGA, meanwhile, has refused to hold its championship tournament at Trump's New Jersey golf club. When golf drops Trump, you know he's being dropped -- and that the fear of losing customers as a result is less than fear of being associated with him.
The timeline at Goya offers a case in point. Last July, when Unanue campaigned with Trump, many Latinos and some anti-Trump groups called for a boycott of the Hispanic-owned food company's products. Trump supporters responded with a "buy-cott," urging their ranks to buy Goya products.
Who won? Sales driven by COVID-fueled demand for canned goods were hot early on. After July, though, Goya sales growth withered. And the board has discussed replacing Unanue, an anonymous source told CNN.
Unanue is not being "censored," as some news reports put it. Nor is Lindell a victim of cancel culture, as he insists. Both are free to mouth off, just as their customers are free to bypass a product they associate with appalling behavior.
To be clear on the issues involved, I never cared whether Unanue or Lindell liked or voted for Trump. But their tying the prestige of their companies to the Trump campaign made buying their products feel like a kind of Trump endorsement.
Let's end with the case of Mark Hastings, CEO of BarProducts.com. Hastings foolishly posted pictures of himself in front of the Capitol during the riots -- and wearing a Trump hat, no less. An instant social media campaign was launched to boycott his products.
As a bar manager at the Graduate Hotel in Seattle wrote on Facebook, "This is a person I've given money to and in some way, I feel a little responsible for funding him to be there."
Americans are putting their consumer dollars on the side of democracy. Most of corporate America seems to have noticed.
Froma Harrop is a nationally syndicated columnist whose work regularly appears in the Grand Forks Herald.