Embracing cancel culture, Trump calls for Goodyear boycott

In July, Trump said "cancel culture" has "absolutely no place in the United States." In August, he's changed his mind.
The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company logo sits atop the former headquarters in Akron, Ohio on August 10, 2019.
The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company logo sits atop the former headquarters in Akron, Ohio on August 10, 2019.Kristoffer Tripplaar / Sipa USA via AP file
By Steve Benen

A local station in Kansas this week ran a report about a Goodyear diversity training slideshow. Ordinarily, that wouldn't generate attention from the president of the United States, but we're living in a weird time.

Evidently, incoming Goodyear employees at a Topeka plant were warned about inappropriate political displays, and workers were told to avoid attire that says, "Make America Great Again."

It wasn't long before this random local report found its way to Donald Trump, who's now predictably lashing out at the private company.

"Don't buy GOODYEAR TIRES - They announced a BAN ON MAGA HATS. Get better tires for far less! (This is what the Radical Left Democrats do. Two can play the same game, and we have to start playing it now!)."

Right off the bat, let's pause to question the value of the president's strategic thinking. In this case, Goodyear, a prominent American company, is based in Ohio (18 electoral votes). Trump thinks it's a good idea to issue a boycott call against one of the most celebrated businesses in a swing state? In the midst of a recession? Seriously?

It's also worth marveling at the Republican's willingness to use his office to target private American companies that have hurt his feelings. As we've discussed, from a historical perspective, this is just bizarre, but Trump can't seem to help himself, going after GM, Harley-Davidson, Nordstrom, Amazon.com, and AT&T, among others, just since taking office.

In the not-too-distant past, the right condemned moves like these as "gangster government." It's hard not to notice those same voices on the right remaining silent now.

But it was the second half of the president's tweet that struck me as especially notable: Trump acknowledged that he was adopting the tactics of "the Radical Left Democrats," insisting this is the game that "we have to start playing."

What he seems to be referring to is something often referred to as "cancel culture," and while the phrase means different things to different people, Trump recently defined it as the phenomenon of "shaming dissenters and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees."

In other words, if a prominent celebrity were to say something racist, and the left called for him or her to be punished, the president would see that as an example of "cancel culture." It's something he's begun complaining about on a nearly daily basis, including this week: Trump asked a crowd of supporters in Wisconsin on Monday, "Do you want your friends and family to be persecuted by the far-left wing? It's called 'cancel culture,' right?"

It's an ironic thing for the Republican to whine about. As the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell explained last month, "Unfortunately, no other American has spent more time, energy and (taxpayer) resources trying to cancel dissent and enforce submission than Trump."

CNN's Daniel Dale added, "Trump has long railed against "political correctness." But he has also tried for years to get people and entities punished or banished for what he considers objectionable words and acts. Trump has explicitly advocated cancellations, boycotts and firings on numerous occasions -- often simply because he doesn't like something his target has said."

Or in this week's example, something an American company included in a diversity training slideshow.

What's surprising is, Trump, at least as of this morning, isn't trying to draw a distinction between his tactics and those used by those he holds in contempt. Rather, the president is doing largely the opposite: Trump suddenly believes "cancel culture" is now worthwhile, and something the far-right should start embracing "now!"

As recently as last month, he said the phenomenon of punishing people for engaging in offensive behavior has "absolutely no place in the United States of America." I guess he's changed his mind.