[I originally had a video clip here that perfectly illustrated, satirically, the craven instincts of corporate America as it grovels to Black Lives Matter. It is a from a classic “Simpsons” episode, “Deep Space Homer,” in which Kent Brockman, the idiot Springfield news anchor whose intellect makes Ted Baxter seem like Tim Russert, mistakenly comes to believe that the Earth is about to be conquered by giant ants. He immediately pivots to sucking up to the ants in his broadcasts. Then, just before posting the clip, I thought, wait, is someone going to accuse me of comparing African Americans to insects, when I’m accurately comparing our jelly-spined corporate leaders to a cowardly fool? And I chickened out. Now I’m disgusted with myself. Thus is life in cancel-culture America]
Long, long ago, in a galaxy far away, I remember I offered a competition here for the most obnoxious, cloying, blatantly pandering corporate statement in reaction to the George Floyd Freakout. This followed so closely on the heels of a corporate rush to exploit the pandemic with obnoxious, cloying, blatantly pandering messages ( “In these specail/difficult/ stressful times…”) that I realized, too late, that I was risking my sanity. Many, many readers sent entries my way (thank you), and I slogged through them all, even though all but a handful read like they were written by the same cheap bot that had created the pandemic-licking garbage
I used to work for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and got to know a lot of CEO ans their top lieutenants. I left that career chapter convinced that the negative public image of corporations and the people who ran them was shallow and mistaken. The rush of many of the same companies I worked to embrace racist, violent, Marxist Black Lives Matter has erased all of the. These companies and their management are themselves shallow and mistaken, and worse. They are virtually traitors to American ideals—those stories about American industrialists sucking up to Hitler no longer seem incredible as they once did—; they are cowardly; they are venal, and they are stupid, stupid, stupid.
Unfortunately, so many of them have adopted this despicable strategy that we can’t even punish them by switching loyalties to their competitors. And the reverse is true: these corporations are deliberately throwing in with the forces of indoctrination, censorship and suppression. Where I live, in Northern Virginia, I have seen dozens of Black Lives Matter signs, and many more Biden 2020 signs. I have not seen a single Trump sign, and it is because people are afraid of having their homes vandalized and their kids being called racists at school. This un-American, anti-American environment of fear is what the powerful, influential corporate sector has decided that it is in their scrimey, greedy, stock option-protecting, collaborationist interests to support. I will not forgive them for that. I always knew corporations were untrustworthy, of course, but I never thought they were this untrustworthy.
Good to know.
Thus I am not ready to let the Goodyear episode go quite yet. Fortunately, Glenn Logan is on one of his periodic rolls. Here is his Comment of the Day, the second in a row, on Item #3 in the post, “Lazy Saturday Ethics Diversions, 8/22/2020: Hypocrisy Again.“
[Oh: the “best” corporate pander to Black Lives Matter was easily the short-lived, but immortally bone-headed, “Popeyes is nothing without Black lives,”]
3. Does Goodyear win the “Trying to Be On All Sides At Once Without Consequences” prize in the corporate division?
They have a lot of company who just did it smarter, in my opinion. But having said that, here’s an observation:
I understand corporate impulses to place themselves on the (please forgive me for this) “right side of history.” During my whole life, we have seen corporate virtue signaling, mostly on television but occasionally in print.
With the advent of social media, a lot of things have changed for the worse when it comes to corporations and social issues. In the instant case, it seems corporations have acknowledged, and to some extent embraced, the unethical Black Lives Matter trope, “Silence is violence.” Certainly, activists on all sides of the debate spend a lot of time raising social issues at corporate leadership, and engaging in various levels of complaints or even boycotts at their expense — in common vernacular, “calling them out.”
I think most Americans with functional cerebra not terminally infected with the passions of the moment would prefer to see corporations stay out of divisive social issues and do what they are best at — produce products or services for our consumption and engage in social issues, especially and mostly at their local level, quietly and competently. The problem is, because so much of our private conversation has become nationalized through social media, a comparatively small number of voices can have a disproportionate impact on corporate behavior, especially when amplified by a media invested in one side of the argument.
It’s hard to blame the corporations for trying to forestall the negative consequences of this new cycle. Pre-social media, corporations could largely ignore these voices until they reached a critical mass, or weigh in only on matters they knew were broadly popular, like patriotism and environmentalism. They could be treated like emerging threats to the brand and campaigns carefully constructed to appeal to the issue without alienating too many people.
But unlike those times, today’s issues can become hugely, if temporarily, important even before the body politic catches up with them. It is this rapidly-changing environment that provokes so many ill-advised adventures into virtue-signaling by our corporations. Also, the national scope of social media has forced many of these initiatives out of the localities occupied by corporate entities (where they do the most good and rightly belong) and into the national discussion.
Most companies don’t care about the color of your politics, only the color of your money. That is, in most respects, how it should be. These days, however, some consultants have decided to see these social issue boomlets as opportunities rather than the threats that they are — mostly because their durability is uncertain, secondary impacts unclear, and potential for backlash poorly understood. Most likely, that’s what happened to Goodyear.
Corporate executives, taken as a group, are notoriously ethics-agnostic, much more concerned about image than conviction, and willing to do whatever it takes to appeal to the largest number of people while minimizing the backlash. It is also likely true that these modern forays into social issues, because of their perceived urgency, are poorly thought out and have no real strategy. No thought is given to carefully testing, analyzing, and engineering their positions for maximum positive effect and minimum backlash because of the urge to “get out in front” of the issue.
I want to give Trump some credit, because his Twitter response to Goodyear’s training crystallized the nature of this problem in the minds of the thoughtful and is a case study in the consequences of poor conception and indifferent execution of a corporate policy aimed at social issues. Trump can’t have that credit, though, because in doing so, he abused the power of his office, demeaned the Presidency and reduced it to the level of a political party organ. Pathetic, divisive, petty (as Valkygrrl complained) and a display of weakness, not strength.
Still, it is useful as a caution to corporations. Formulating social positioning is not simple or something to be “trained” into employees about this issue or that. A bungled process can cause significant negative perception of the company, as Goodyear has and will continue to discover. Also, a quick incompetent “band-aid” reply like we have seen from the Goodyear CEO can exacerbate the problem rather than stop the bleeding. They deserve every bit of what they are suffering for this, good and hard, because of profoundly incompetent leadership and execution.
I consider this a useful object lesson, one I hope gets well-learned by other companies. I expect to be disappointed.