(Bloomberg Opinion) — Donald Trump’s attempts to use the office of the presidency to call for a boycott of an American company have always been jarring and alarming. But the latest broadside against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. feels particularly shortsighted.
On Wednesday, Goodyear joined a long list of corporations whose products the president has said should be shunned at one point or another. The list — which stretches even longer if you include companies targeted over the course of his campaign — is a who’s who of the American way of life, ranging from Apple Inc., AT&T Inc., Harley-Davidson Inc., Macy’s Inc. and Oreo-maker Mondelez International Inc. He’s also threatened to cancel an order for a new Air Force One jet from Boeing Co. and yank unspecified subsidies for General Motors Co. The reasons for the boycotts range from disagreements over operating decisions such as factory relocations or product selection; a means of pressure for jobs initiatives; leverage for government contract negotiations; and just general dislike. He’s never cared very much if the issues that are the grist for his corporate attacks conflict with or are the result of some of his own policies, nor has he been particularly focused on achieving more than a publicity stunt in most instances.
But Goodyear is an especially curious target. The company’s biggest competitors are foreign companies such as Japan’s Bridgestone Corp., Germany’s Continental AG and France’s Michelin. So when Trump tells his supports to “get better tires for far less,” he would appear to be directing them to spend their dollars at the very same companies he’s spent the better part of the last four years trying to hamper with tariffs and political posturing.
Not to mention, Goodyear — based in the swing state of Ohio — actually operates factories in the U.S. at a time when the White House is angling to bring more manufacturing work back to America, and as the country faces an unprecedented slump in employment because of the coronavirus pandemic. A full-throttle boycott of Goodyear may affect the Americans working at the company, not to mention their attitude toward his re-election prospects. In 2016, Goodyear was one of 15 recipients of the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, “the highest honor” given to the private sector to recognize support for National Guard and Reserve workforce members.Goodyear’s offense is an image circulating on social media that appeared to list “acceptable” and “unacceptable” attire and messaging for the workplace. According to the visual, support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as LGBT initiatives, falls into the “acceptable” category; politically affiliated slogans or material (including the “Make America Great Again” attire featured in the Trump campaign) as well as support for the “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” movements are deemed “unacceptable.” In a statement, Goodyear said the slide wasn’t distributed by corporate headquarters and wasn’t part of a diversity training program, as was alleged on social media.
It remains unclear who exactly created this visual. But once again, Trump’s instinct is to shoot first and ask questions later, a dangerous instinct for someone in charge of running an entire country. It feels particularly notable that his tweet is focused on the alleged ban on the MAGA attire his campaign popularized; he never misses an opportunity to worry about himself. Never mind that even if the slide deck is true, it would also appear to ban, say, t-shirts supporting Trump’s challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.In other comments to local news outlets, Goodyear made a distinction between allowing employees to express themselves on issues of racial justice and equity in the aim of fostering a more respectful workplace, and wanting to avoid political campaigning for either side. It’s an interesting portrait of the challenges corporate America is facing as companies try to respond to demands for social progress. But the complexity of that dilemma is lost on Trump.
Trump’s not the only politician to target or boycott specific companies. Celebrities and prominent Democrats including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York panned Goya Foods earlier this year after the company’s CEO expressed support for Trump. In 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont called on Trump to threaten to withhold defense contracts from United Technologies Corp. (now Raytheon Technologies Corp.) over the status of a factory in Indiana. It’s fair to question the potential ramifications of those calls on rank-and-file Americans, too. “Two can play the same game,” Trump said. But this isn’t high school and only one person is the president.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Brooke Sutherland is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering deals and industrial companies. She previously wrote an M&A column for Bloomberg News.
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