The year was 1974. Diehard Republican partisans who supported President Nixon until the end were livid at The Washington Post's relentless coverage of the Watergate scandal. Republican Sen. Bob Dole had said the paper's treatment of the president amounted to a "barrage of unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations" — that the Post was archliberal Sen. George McGovern's "partner-in-mud-slinging." Former Nixon aide Charles Colson called Post executive editor Ben Bradlee "the self-appointed leader of … the tiny fringe of arrogant elitists who infect the healthy mainstream of American journalism with their own peculiar view of the world."
Inspired by such rhetoric, many rank-and-file Republicans across the country were furious that the manufacturers of newly popular Mr. Coffee machines continued to advertise in the Post. They smashed their coffeemakers with sledgehammers. They ceremoniously threw them out of high apartment-building windows.
Okay, I'm kidding (about the Mr. Coffee protests; the Dole and Colson quotes are real). It would have occurred to vanishingly few people in 1974 to destroy or otherwise prematurely discard popular home appliances because of an ideological grudge. People were less rich and genuinely thriftier back then, and the profusion of electronic devices and technological conveniences that we enjoy today simply didn't exist in 1974.
In the opposite-of-halcyon days of 2017, though, we are hardly surprised to see a bunch of angry white Trumpkins mutilating their Keurig machines with hammers and golf clubs because the company briefly pulled ads from Fox News' Hannity. Instead, the coffeemaker smashing was all seemingly normal — just another instance of our culture's increasingly politicized approach to department stores, consumer goods, fast food, and just about everything else that used to be nonideological, neutral, and fun.
Without question, hyper-politicized consumerism is a sad and stupid spectacle. But on the list of "What's the world coming to?" things we should be worried about, it's awfully low.
1. It's a sign of affluence. Most of President Trump's fanbase is financially just fine. They can smash Keurig machines because they can afford to do so without thinking twice about the cost of buying a new machine. Bully for them. I'm 41 years old. Not only can I remember a time when coffee wasn't an uppity consumer good, I remember when most kitchens didn't have enough counterspace to accommodate a burly Keurig machine. America's already great!
2. We have so many choices! Coincidentally, my six-year-old Keurig machine broke at the same time this media flare-up occurred. A trip to Crate and Barrel reminded me anew of the sheer variety of machines that brew coffee. (No offense to Keurig, but I went with an astonishingly cheap and handy AeroPress.)
3. In combination with social media, it ventilates psychic steam. People are unusually angry about politics these days. With a Twitter account and a ball-peen hammer, a nobody from Nowhere, U.S.A., can feel like he's being heard. In fact, he is being heard. Big businesses are reflexively inclined to tamp down political flare-ups. The CEO of Keurig apologized to Sean Hannity, and the Fox News Channel host subsequently told his viewers they were free to no longer hate the company, blaming the episode on the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America for fostering a misunderstanding.
4. It's good for people to be able to pick their niche. In the immediate wake of the Keurig contretemps, both Hannity and the oleaginous Donald Trump Jr. endorsed the pro-Trump Black Rifle Coffee Company, which was founded by a conservative veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. When Starbucks announced in February that it would hire 10,000 refugees by 2022 in response to the Trump administration's travel ban, Black Rifle countered that it would hire 10,000 veterans. A company blogger posted: "Hipsterbucks brews burnt, bulls— coffee and they add a bunch of sugar, foam, cream and sprinkle a side of other bulls— on the top to mask the taste of S—"
The existence of an option like Black Rifle Coffee adds to our country's sum total of happiness and consumer satisfaction. It diminishes the possibility that a popular and ubiquitous brand like Starbucks will suffocate the market. It's also not my thing. If you're reading this, it's probably not your thing, either. But, like it or not, it's usually a good thing that Somebody Else's Thing exists. Which leads me to my fifth and final point.
5. The midcentury highpoint of American consensus culture was overrated. I'm second to no one in my concern over the virality of fake news and everyone being entitled to their own facts. Yet I'm also forced to admit that this phenomenon is a concomitant result of something I'm generally happy about — and that's the fragmentation of American mass culture. As a young music consumer, I chafed at having to listen to the same dumbass Boston and Foreigner songs on classic-rock radio. Now I have Spotify, and I still have to pinch myself that such a service exists. But I can't rightly celebrate my enlightened habits and tastes without admitting that someone else is going to splinter off into a darker, stupider corner of niche consumption.
So go ahead and smash your coffeemaker. And then buy a new one. If you lived next to me, I'd probably hate your guts. Lucky for both me and you, you don't. On balance, I couldn't be happier.