Boycotts have a long and proud history as an American political tactic, in everything from the civil rights movement to the social justice causes of today. They can be very effective, and make a huge difference in the world.
But then there’s a separate category of boycott, that’s become ubiquitous in recent years, which I like to call the Half-Assed Conservative Cultural Boycott. It comes as part of the never-ending backlash against “wokeness,” with those who hate that trend constantly threatening to strike back by withholding their business.
The problem is, boycotts are effective when they’re targeted. There’s not much effectiveness in always boycotting everything, all at the same time.
Nothing Left to Watch
There were calls to boycott Netflix last year, over the Cuties nonsense, and Disney+ earlier this year, over the firing of Gina Carano from The Mandalorian, which might leave right-wing streaming fans with no services left to watch. Of course, neither Netflix nor Disney+ lost any significant amount of subscribers. Netflix had what was considered a disappointing performance in the first quarter of 2021, and it still added 4 million subscribers.
Then there’s former President Trump. In his post-banishment workaround of Twitter, which entails issuing press releases and having his aides tweet them, Trump in early April called for a boycott of a long list of companies that have crossed him. In the release, Trump demanded his followers “Boycott Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS, and Merck.”
Most of those are companies who had criticized Georgia’s restrictive new voting law, which caused MLB to move the All-Star Game out of that state, although Trump likely has specific, esoteric beefs with most of them.
Now, compare that to, say, the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. Yes, it was likely very difficult for the citizens of Montgomery to avoid public transportation, something they accomplished with a system of carpools. But they did it, because it was a worthy cause, one for which they had a plan that succeeded.
On the other hand, here’s what Trump is demanding of his fans: That they abandon their sports fandom, move their bank accounts, eschew taking potentially life-saving medication, and book potentially more expensive and inconvenient flights. Oh, and the ViacomCBS part means they can’t watch the Godfather movies ever again. And I know South Park has a lot of conservative fans, but sorry, ViacomCBS owns Comedy Central, so that’s out too.
Trump’s boycott plan has all the earmarks of something tossed off with little thought, and with no particular goal. He’s also not even observing it himself, as judging by the photographs of Diet Coke on his desk, and the continued serving of the company’s products at Trump properties.
There’s nothing specific to conservative grievances that makes them not conducive to boycotts. But if you’re going to run a successful boycott, you have to actually work at it, and be serious about it, and show up. If you’re boycotting everything at once, you’re really boycotting nothing at all.