The focus of the political world will be on California Sunday when several political speeches are bound to take over the Oscars. According to one account, the Oscars broadcast, which lost viewers last year, could rebound over the expectation of hearing these political speeches. Or there could be a boycott of the broadcast in anticipation of speeches blasting President Donald Trump.
That would be in line with the current political strategy that seems to be capturing activists of all political stripes in this divided country: Boycott everything!
When Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank praised Trump’s business agenda, social media exploded with a hashtag to boycott the company.
With Elon Musk agreeing to serve on Trump’s business advisory committee, customers reportedly canceled auto orders.
Boycott campaigns were aimed at retailers such as New Balance, Macy’s and L.L. Bean because company officials said kind words about Trump’s business or trade policies.
Of course, there was the blowup over Nordstrom’s dumping Ivanka Trump’s fashion line which saw counter campaigns to either support or boycott Nordstrom’s over its decision.
The boycott strategy could also find itself in state law if Senator Ricardo Lara gets his way. Lara’s Senate Bill 30 would prohibit the state government from doing business with any individual or organization that assists in construction of a federal border wall along the California-Mexico border. Consider this a state sanctioned boycott.
I’ve tackled the issue of boycott before: In the free speech universe, boycotts themselves are a form of free speech, an individual expressing an opinion by choosing not to buy (or the obverse — to buy to support a business’ decision). On the other hand, boycotts can have a chilling effect on free speech by discouraging expression by business owners and others.
Of course, California business is not unfamiliar with boycotts. The boycott against grape growers organized by the United Farm Workers is well remembered. More recently, some Southern Baptists organized a boycott against Disney.
Boycotts to make political points have been encouraged by Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and President Jimmy Carter during the 1980 Moscow Olympics. A petition signed by supposedly 700,000 people called for a boycott against Target stores after the retailer announced transgender people are welcome to use the restrooms that they identify with the most.
What if all these boycotts were successful beyond the imaginings of their supporters? Some businesses would be shut down. Some voices would lack an audience.
But a major goal of boycotts is shut off debate and that is a dangerous thing. Our great civic divide would deepen because people are not talking to each other.
I still believe in the marketplace of ideas. Discerning good ideas from bad takes debate and discussion. Cutting off and threatening to cut off people or institutions that want to voice their opinion ill serves democracy.
Joel Fox is editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee.