It can be exhausting to be a politically aware consumer in modern America. Progressive activists want fellow liberals to shun an ever-growing list of Trump-affiliated products and companies. Obviously, no progressive can stay in a Trump hotel, tee off at a Trump golf course, or put on a pair of Ivanka Trump–brand shoes. But that’s just the start. As the Boycott Trump smartphone app explains, progressives can’t wear Gucci (it has a store in Trump Tower), shop at Barnes & Noble (it carries the president’s books), or snack on Cheetos (a former sponsor of Celebrity Apprentice). Meanwhile, conservative activists are rapidly adding names to their own boycott list. They want consumers to shun Nordstrom, because it recently dropped Ivanka’s product line, and to refuse to patro nize Disney, because its new Beauty and the Beast film features an openly gay character (see Talking Points). They’ve even called on conservative vacationers to stay away from Hawaii after a federal judge there blocked the president’s second travel ban.
Politics-driven boycotts are, of course, nothing new. In the 1960s, the United Farm Workers organized a grape boycott to stop California farmers from hiring low-paid, nonunion workers. Three decades later, Nike faced a boycott because it used foreign sweatshops to make its sneakers. But those economic protests were aimed at changing specific corporate practices. In our tribal political climate, the new wave of consumer activism is a statement of identity: You are what you buy—and a traitor if you spend dollars on the enemy’s products. For retailers, this is a no-win proposition, because any action they take to please one side inevitably enrages the other. Kellogg’s recently pulled advertising from the far-right news site Breitbart.com after complaints from liberal groups, only to find itself the target of a conservative boycott. Oh, for simpler times, when Americans could eat Corn Flakes while watching a Disney movie without taking sides in a national civil war.