The current ideological, virtue-signaling battle over Goya Foods CEO’s praise of President Donald Trump set off another flashpoint in the annoying political culture war of 2020 this weekend. Social media is chock full of posts either decrying Robert Unanue’s initial comments and refusal to back down or vows to keep his company’s bottom line strong due to his apparent patriotism.
Make no mistake, this #Goyaway v. #BuyGoya debate is dumb. Immensely dumb. Much like the ideological debate over the NBA and NFL for their own political machinations – snarky comments towards LeBron James and the NBA as a whole over their lack of support of Hong Kong notwithstanding.
Public boycotts over political thinking are not necessarily worth the time and effort people and celebrities claim to invest in the long run. There’s certainly nothing illegal with public criticism of a product or person (nor should it ever be illegal) but there’s a certain kind of ridiculousness in seeking some sort of groveling apology for political reasons. One has to wonder if those looking for an acknowledgment of guilt from Unanue or the NBA would immediately flock back or take down their pictures of products or jerseys in trash bins.
The public boycott debate brings about another question regarding free speech and whether Unanue’s First Amendment rights are being trampled. The answer is likely no given the right we have as humans, let alone Americans, to decide whether or not we will associate with a company. There is still a bit of a concern when politicians or those looking to get back in power take a public stance on a particular product or sports league (looking at you, Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Mr. President). It would be different if a city or state or nation passed ordinances or laws meant to punish Unanue for his support of Trump.
The current #Goyaway boycott push is a version of cancel culture, but not necessarily the one mentioned in “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” at Harper’s Magazine this past week. The signatories of that essay focused on concerns of demagoguery and illiberalness permeating arts, entertainment, education, and political discussion.
One part of the Harper’s essay rings true in the Goya/NBA/NFL debates. “We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.”
Of course, it’s much harder to “cancel” an entire sports league or large corporation particularly when there’s a large majority of customers who either don’t care or ignore political flashpoints. Robert Unanue may eventually lose his job as Goya Foods CEO although it’s much more likely to be due to internal strife amidst the Unanue Family versus public pressure for his support of Trump. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might be forced out due to the unhappiness of team owners, declining popularity due to game length or pace, or labor strife. Public political flashpoints will likely be minor in the grand scheme of things.
A final reminder regarding the public calls for boycotts championed by celebrities or social media. They’re looking to dredge up support from their base. That’s it. No other real reason except for a rather ridiculous form of political posturing with no real substantive debate. Outside of the typical, “It’s all about the damn jersey,” permeating politics.