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Paul T. O’Connor: America segregating itself through boycotts

By Paul T O’Connor

RALEIGH — In the days before national chains, my Uncle Ted would only stop at auto-club approved motels during our annual baseball trips.

“I want a clean room,” he would say. But I suspect now that the practice stemmed from his days as a salesman and a concern that someone with an Irish Catholic surname might not be welcome at some family motels in WASPish America.

Given the deep divide we face as Americans these days, I’m wondering if we won’t soon create a social issues imprimatur similar to the AAA medallion — not to assure us of a clean room but of a welcome by people of like political persuasions.

Let’s start with the boycotts against Trump hotels. At least three NBA clubs won’t use them, and New Yorkers are making plans to remove the Trump name from their condo tower. There’s also a national movement to boycott stores that carry Ivanka Trump’s merchandise.

The anti-Trump boycotts go beyond the Trump brand. There have been calls to boycott Home Depot and Yuengling beer because company bigwigs supported the President-elect.

Not all boycotts involve Trump.

A pizza chain was boycotted for opposing Obamacare, a sandwich shop chain because its founder is a big-game hunter, a sports shoe brand because one of its executives clubs baby seals and a Greek yogurt brand because its owner hires legal immigrants.

Last year, we saw bakeries boycotting customers, refusing to bake cakes for same-sex weddings. HB 2 has prompted some businesses to identify their politics and maybe, more subtly, than the bakeries signal their preference for customers.

Stores in Chapel Hill posted signs welcoming people of all sexual orientations and my favorite bar in Raleigh converted its bathrooms to unisex.

Put this all together and there is a trend: We’re segregating ourselves at the lunch counter based on opposition to, or support of, NAFTA and the like. Will we soon lose friends because we buy our handbags and sneakers at a politically proscribed department store?

Not all boycotts pertain to each of us. I can’t afford a Trump hotel, don’t like Yuengling’s beer style and don’t shop at Home Depot because other hardware stores are closer. But I might need a spare part for a Home Depot product I bought 10 years ago. The sandwich shop makes my favorite sub, and I love that yogurt, especially when it’s on sale 10 cups for $6.

If I sneak into one of those businesses, does that make me a misogynist?

There’s nothing wrong with preferring not to buy a company’s products.

For example, I won’t drink beer, even craft brands, from the multinational companies.

I want to support small breweries and fear that the big breweries will repeat the brand consolidation they achieved in the 1970s. Boycotts, however, aren’t product related. They’re driven by politics, and the day may come when we’ll check that a hair dryer on sale is both certified by Underwriters Laboratories and is acceptable to our favorite political party.

Paul T. O’Connor writes columns for the Capitol Press Association. He has covered state government for 38 years.

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