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The new war profiteers: Nike and The NY Times

Nike and The New York Times are modern-day war profiteers. Nike’s new Colin Kaepernick marketing campaign is designed to stoke polarization — and coin money. Ditto The New York Times and its recent anti-Trump op-ed by “anonymous,” the “high official” inside the Trump administration.

The irony is rich. Nike as provocateur and the Times as enabler of a self-confessed subversive at the heart of government are engaging in the very divisiveness of which they accuse President Trump.

Jason Gay outlined Nike’s scheme in The Wall Street Journal last week. It was not that Nike knew its position would be controversial and proceeded anyway. Nike proceeded because its move would be maximally provocative. As Gay observed, “Outrage is a branding strategy now,” and continued, “Nike knows all this. And it fed the beast.” Of course, Nike intends that the beast will feed it profits in return.

The Times asserts that it ran the “I Am Part of the Resistance” op-ed as “the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers.” Really? The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board stated, “[The Times op-ed] isn’t news. The fact that senior administration officials have been trying to block Mr. Trump’s uninformed policy impulses, and mute his self-destructive anger and narcissism, has been reported hundreds of times.”

Such mind-numbing repetition deadens ears, so the Times partnered with “anonymous” to reawaken them with sensationalism.

“Anonymous” claims to be one of “the adults in the room” who “have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained.” Well, where were these “adults” when the worst foreign policy disaster in U.S. history was launched, the Iraq War; when mercantilist China launched a massive unfair trade assault that decimated American manufacturing; when a “red line” in Syria was crossed without any consequences; when a rogue North Korea might have been stopped before it went nuclear?

The adults managed these policy failures with great civility. Many Americans prefer successful policies even if pursued with discourteous, provocative and offensive behavior. Indeed, that is why they elected Donald Trump, who enjoys an electoral mandate — including on trade, where the president is prosecuting a trade war intended to protect American manufacturing from further damage wrought by China. No one elected “anonymous,” who, manifestly, cannot distinguish between free trade and fair trade, and who may be naïve enough to think that China will cease and desist in response to a courtier’s polite request.

In the op-ed’s conclusion, “anonymous” purports to inspire Americans to the “high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation” Yet, both this “Unknown Un-soldier” on the inside and the Times are either incredibly obtuse or they knew that the column would “feed the beast” Nike-style and further polarize our “bitterly divided” nation that “anonymous” bemoans in his or her opening sentences. “Bitterly divided” may not capture fully the extreme viciousness of the war raging in this country, in which everything but hot lead is flying. Memo to “anonymous,” his fellow “adults” and the Times: democracy dies in subversion of democratic mandates and in runaway sensationalism.

There are no heroes here. The Times is not The Washington Post of the Vietnam War era, which worried that publishing the first installment of the top-secret Pentagon Papers might lead the government to shut its presses and bankrupt the paper. Nor is “anonymous” any “profile in courage.” If he or she is discovered and fired, there will be many employers in waiting, if not pursuit, or a university that will offer a fellowship. The Nike campaign features a headshot of Kaepernick over the high-minded words: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” In actuality, Kaepernick must be collecting big endorsement dollars from Nike.

Pre-Trump, the Times was struggling amidst print media’s slow death. Under Trump it is robustly profitable, as are most of the anti-Trump media. Yet another anti-Trump tirade, however artfully formulated as a sensational unsigned column, risked nothing. Indeed, it has done the opposite, extracting even more from the mother lode of profitability to be found in anti-Trump mania.

As Gay said of Nike: “Doubling down on the public’s anger used to be the edgy domain of shock radio hosts, louche rock bands and dingbats on the internet, but now it’s a useful tool of multinational apparel” — and, I would add, media — “corporations. Gone are the days when divisiveness was a third rail.”

Perhaps forgotten amidst the turmoil, the honorable thing would have been for “anonymous” to resign; for the Times to have offered him or her space only for a resignation statement; for Kaepernick to have declined to be the face of faux noble sacrifice; for Nike to have forsworn the third rail; and for the president to rise more above the fray, as only the president can do.

True courage entails facing real danger or enduring the risk or actuality of real sacrifice. Not Nike, nor the Times, nor Kaepernick, nor “anonymous” face any real danger or have anything at risk. All are marching with variously arch and brash self-righteousness to the bank, where their accounts are secure, if not swelling by the day with newfound culture and partisan warfare profits.

As appeared in The Hill on Sept. 12, 2018.


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