It has been a complicated week for those of us considering how best to act against Donald Trump – nowhere more so than on the question of boycotts. Consumer boycotting, one of the least labour-intensive forms of dissent, often involves a resolution to avoid merchants you did not use in the first place, while still delivering some small sense of victory.The bigger problem, in a commercial landscape in which heroes and villains seem to switch places every five minutes, is deciding which brands belong where.
Amazon is a perfect example. In among the first wave of companies listed by organisers of the #GrabYourWallet boycott, Amazon was identified as a target for selling Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, which seemed to many of us intuitively right. Buying books from Amazon has always been a guilty act, given the company’s history of commercial bullying, and boycotting it over Trump would send a powerful message while entailing a level of inconvenience that would make it feel meaningful.
Then, this week, Jeff Bezos sent a memo to his staff condemning Trump’s executive order on immigration and pledging his support for the lawsuit being brought against the president by Washington state. Similarly, Starbucks – which tends to appear in my timeline only as a result of its serial use of tax loopholes – was suddenly showered with love after Howard Schultz pledged to hire 10,000 refugees in the next five years. For an entire day, everyone I knew was telling each other to buy a $4 latte.
The trickiest one in the US this week has been over transport. Uber is out, for loosely strike-breaking during the cab driver protest at JFK airport against the travel ban; and Lyft, the ride-sharing app, is in for donating $1m to the American Civil Liberties Union to help fight Trump. But one of Lyft’s major investors is Peter Thiel, the billionaire Trump supporter and enemy of free speech who recently bankrolled the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that shut down Gawker.
None of these qualifiers undermines the value of the anti-Trump gesture, but they do suggest thinking twice before changing one’s habits or pledging devotion to a company one might latterly have loathed.
In that same spirit I wonder now at the wisdom of my having promoted, in this column last week, the alternative Twitter feed for the National Parks service, @AltNatParkSer. It now has well over a million followers and, while it’s a satisfying two fingers up to Trump, as a news source it is part of the problem that got us here: no transparency, no guarantee of who the person who’s tweeting is, and the potential for it all to be dismissed as fake news.
Speaking of which, over on Fox News, something that, even in this week of shocks, made me do a double take: Bill O’Reilly urging Trump to be cautious with his stance on immigration, so as not to “tarnish the message the statue of liberty sends”. There are already murmurs of a case for impeachment, for which this would surely be supporting evidence. When O’Reilly thinks you’re being unreasonable, it’s time to see a doctor.
I have been leafing through an old copy of Rebecca West’s The Meaning of Treason. West’s account of the trial of William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw-Haw, the British fascist and Nazi propagandist who was executed in 1946 for treason, is an odd read.
The book was first published in 1949 and the oddest thing about it, at this remove, is how a traitor considered so dangerous at the time now seems a mere curiosity, a man relegated to the absurdity of the unrealised threat. Of Joyce’s brutish associates, West says, it was his single talent to attract these “poor luckless fellows” who “might overturn the sane community that was bound to reject them and substitute a mad one that would regard them kindly”.