#DeleteUber, Super Bowl Ads, and the Limits of Woke Capitalism
In the past few weeks, corporations have learned quickly that cooperation with the Trump administration comes at a price. The combination of Uber ending surge pricing during the airport strikes combined with the CEO sitting on an economic advisory board for the Trump administration led to #DeleteUber catching like fire over twitter and over 200,000 people deleting their accounts. This also led to Lyft beating Uber in the app store for downloads for the first time ever, as Lyft donated one million dollars to the ACLU. Nordstroms and TJ Maxx are removing every trace they can of Ivanka Trump’s clothing line from their stores. A multitude of ads from Air BnB to Coca Cola to Budweiser all had their own varying messages that spoke to a more inclusive America that contrasted with Trump’s rhetoric. But these actions and ads have limits, and no matter how “woke” these corporations and CEOs sound, their actions will be at best insufficient to the political dilemmas of our time.
The Blindside of #DeleteUber
The #DeleteUber campaign was an incredible success in that it forced the Uber CEO off of Trump’s advisory board. When possible, companies should face repercussions for working with a clear white supremacist administration. The more the administration is isolated and made out to be illegitimate, the less power that it has and the more susceptible it is to public pressure. There are times, where economic boycotts are simply ineffective or not feasible. In a time of massive income and wealth inequality not everyone can join in on possible boycotts, needing to rely on the cheapest or most convenient options. On the other end, boycotting a good that few can afford to begin with like Tesla by Elon Musk (another member of Trump’s economic advisory board), will be limited.
The bigger flaw is that both Uber and Lyft were bad companies regardless of their actions, both are companies with awful labor practices. Despite the flexibility and technological progress brought about by both apps, the way they treat their drivers and desire to move towards completely driverless cars is an overall detriment to Americans. When these types of economic conditions become commonplace, it makes society vulnerable to the rise of far-right leaders like Trump in the first place. Uber also is no stranger to abhorrent partnerships, accepting a 3.2 billion dollar investment from Saudi Arabia, a country where women can’t drive, a third of its population are migrant workers under monstrous conditions, and those found to be gay or atheist can face a punishment as severe as death. Despite the takes of Silicon Valley tech lords, apps like Uber are not making Saudi Arabia anymore progressive.
That’s It? Some Ads?
Super Bowl ads have been political before at times, but this year was particularly focused around unity and immigration, a clear rebuke to Trump. The ads have to be taken into context with how people view Trump. To many, he’s seen as a threat to American democracy, a fascist, a white supremacist, and more. On the biggest stage, the strongest rebuke corporate America has is a couple of feel good ads? Not even every ad had the anti-Trump bend that we would have thought. 84 Lumber’s ad that showed a mother and her child making the difficult journey to the US country only to arrive at a wall with what one might call a “big, beautiful door” for them to walk through.
These are the limits of “woke” capitalism. Even in the most dire of political climates, there will never be a call to action or a true alternative to the potential horrors we might face. At the end of the day, what these ads are meant to do is to give a cathartic feeling so that consumers feel better buying their products. Capitalism does not inspire revolution or action, it suppresses it. No matter how much you want to try and turn buying Nordstrom’s products into a revolutionary act, it will never be one. At the end of the day, companies will do whatever they think is the best for their bottom line. Sometimes that lines up with our political positions, but rarely is it a genuine expression.
They Won’t Save You
Whether they serve on Trump’s board, voice support for him or not, these companies are never going to be able to form an effective resistance to Trump. They are doing what is in the best interest for their profit. Google and Facebook have collaborated with the surveillance state before and they will again, regardless of who helms it. Elon Musk will issue condemnations with no meat to them while working with an administration so that he can profit. This false notion of trying to make the administration better is a poor excuse for companies trying to curry favor and influence. Musk may disagree with an immigration policy that won’t affect him, but he’ll continue to work with the administration as they share the same anti-labor views.
Companies that choose to be “opposed” to Trump are doing nothing more than making people feel a bit better about buying their products. The greed of these companies has brought about the level of income inequality and economic hardship that made the country ripe for Trump’s nationalist rhetoric to begin with. What is required to overcome Trump and everything that brought him to power is a revolution, and capitalism will never be a part of that.