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How Private Businesses Are Exploiting Polarized Attitudes of American Consumers

By Manu Meel What explains the rise of the Black Rifle Coffee Company (BRCC), Nike signing Colin Kaepernick, and AT&T supporting One America News? Each of these companies had an incentive to exploit the polarized attitudes of American consumers.  In an age where everything is political, Americans’ consumption patterns are certainly not left untouched. And companies recognize this politicization of consumer behavior. After all, the north star of the private sector is maximizing profit and shareholder value. And maximizing profit involves understanding how to best market to potential customers. More importantly, maximizing profit also involves keeping the company relevant in the eyes of the next generation.  Looking more closely at the BRCC, Nike, and AT&T as case studies, it is clear that each company’s strategy, to an extent, is driven by seizing market opportunity. We can certainly debate how much political pandering factors into decision making, but it is without question that pandering to politics drives business and deeper consumer engagement.  BRCC has become the most prominent conservative coffee business, and it presents itself as an alternative to Starbucks’ left leaning politics. I admire BRCC’s focus on veterans, but it is evident that their appeal and growing market share is also a result of their messaging to a conservative audience. From weapon branded coffee flavors to hiring 10,000 veterans after Starbucks hired 10,000 refugees, BRCC has engaged in a creative branding campaign that taps into the conservative beliefs of many Americans.  While BRCC represents a conservative case study, Nike’s signing of Colin Kaepernick to an endorsement deal is an example of a company exploiting left leaning politics. When signing Mr. Kaepernick, I am sure Nike’s leadership had motivations beyond profit. But it is notable that since the signing, Nike’s shares have jumped 62% from $80 per share pre-signing to $130 per share post-signing. Of course there are other factors involved in Nike’s shares increasing, but signaling to a left-leaning consumer base about it’s companies values certainly played a role in increased consumer confidence.  Finally, a recent Reuters special report broke the story about how AT&T helped build the far-right news network, One America News (OAN). OAN founder Robert Herring has testified that the idea for OAN news came from AT&T executives after they realized they wanted “a conservative network.” It’s notable that AT&T also owns HBO and CNN, which are perceived as catering to a left leaning audience. If AT&T’s investment in OAN is not an example of a company recognizing the various political viewpoints that they must pander to, then I do not know what is.  BRCC, Nike, and AT&T are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to companies exploiting consumers’ political attitudes for profit. We saw similar examples of companies taking political stands with the introduction of the Georgia voting laws earlier this year.  Now some may argue that companies exploiting consumer political attitudes is no different than companies exploiting other aspects of consumer behavior, such as the growing trend towards health-conscious eating. However, the polarization that we see confined to politics and media will only further engulf the private sector if this continues.  Imagine a world in which you have banks that serve only conservative customers and banks that serve only liberal customers. Or a world in which pharmaceutical companies cater to right-wing beliefs and pharmaceutical companies that espouse left-leaning beliefs. We are already seeing this with conservative social media. Companies like Parler are on the rise because consumers believe the current social media giants have a liberal bias.  In other words, what currently seems like a natural free-market tendency to capture maximum profit by catering to consumers’ political beliefs may turn into another wedge that divides American society. We already have Americans confined to their media bubbles. We don’t need Americans also confined to their own purchasing bubbles. If we want to rescue American democracy from the grip of polarization, we have to recognize the reality that many businesses face. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle where a more polarized citizenry leads to more political business strategy, which reinforces peoples’ bubbles because their purchasing decisions become one more political battleground to fight on.  Therefore, the solution to the politicization of business is the same as the solution to the politicization of our individual beliefs. We must break the fever that is polarization by getting Americans to extend beyond their ideological bubbles. To get Americans to not see every political argument as existential. To help them divorce their consumer behaviors from their political attitudes. Yes, everything is politics. But right now, we all need a break. 
12
Oct

Why Bridge is Perfect for Someone Just Starting to Get Engaged in Politics

Why Bridge is Perfect for Someone Just Starting to Get Engaged in Politics

By Liliana Xu I was slightly terrified when I first joined BridgeUSA. I had only just begun following politics and current events more closely, and BridgeUSA – an organization centered on political dialogue – seemed intimidating. I figured I was about to enter a conversation where everyone would be far more knowledgeable than I was, and I would inevitably reveal my lack of awareness about too many things. However, I was also extremely curious about the premise of the club and its ability to actually foster productive dialogue.  By the end of my first meeting, I knew I wanted to come back, and I knew I would be welcomed. As someone who was unfamiliar with talking extensively about politics, someone who was always playing catch-up with the news, someone who didn’t understand how Congress worked rather than someone who planned to work there someday, I thought my perspective would be rare in BridgeUSA. But it’s quite common, given that BridgeUSA spaces are a perfect entry point into getting engaged in politics: they are built to encourage all ideas to be heard and to discourage personal attacks or outright dismissal. As a result, many of our members are young people who may not have been particularly involved in politics prior to joining. Politics can be intimidating – it often feels like everyone is just shouting their opinions. And it seems like those people are either shouting based on feelings rather than fact or shouting based on years of studying government structure. In either case, I never felt particularly motivated – or qualified – to get involved. If I view politics as characterized by Twitter fights, ruined Thanksgivings and presidential debates where the candidates talk over each other, I see no place I want to get involved. At the same time, I don’t expect discussions about politics to only happen between fully informed, rational individuals – because those do not exist. I will never be able to exhaustively research any issue, and everyone is driven by emotion to some degree. But still, good conversations about politics need to happen, and they can happen. The more I learned more about politics, history, government, media, religion, and all the different facets of society over the years, the more I saw how learning about each helped contextualize my understanding about the others. For that reason, I wanted to find a way to learn more about politics, and BridgeUSA turned out to be a great pathway to do so. Every meeting and event has given me insight into not only new political ideas and beliefs, but also the practices of active listening and exercising my voice. It is meant to be a space where even as a newbie, you can offer up opinions without fear of being ridiculed – you might face opposition, but the emphasis is placed on the idea, not your personal legitimacy. It is a place where you can share your most absurd opinions, as long as you are willing to engage in debate and face pushback. It is an opportunity to hear new perspectives, learn about relevant news and events, and continuously see how issues are connected and complex.
04
Jun

On Topic: What do young people think about the January 6 Commission?

On Topic: What do young people think about the January 6 Commission?

This discussion features three Bridge members from around the country and was hosted on Discord. To protect the privacy of our members, we’ve used only their first initial, Chapter location, and age as identifiers. The January 6 commission is an outside, independent commission similar to the one after 9/11, created to investigate and report on the events of January 6, 2021. The proposed legislation passed in the U.S. House 252-175, with 35 Republicans joining Democrats in support of the plan. However, it came to a standstill after a series of votes and a filibuster by Senate Republicans prevented the legislation from moving forward. We asked some of our members their thoughts on the events from January 6 and the creation of such a commission. Read the discussion below: Question: What are your current thoughts on the Storming of the Capitol months later? What do you think of a Commission to investigate the event? J, Kansas, 21: “The capital riots showed how a year of hyperpolarized, isolated and toxic culture had so much power on the election. I definitely think there should be some consideration for a commission, even if the results and actions start off minimally.” A, New York, 24: “The riots were symbolic of how much we have let our institutions decay. It’s a reflection of how much we have become accustomed to our polarized, broken politics. The Riot was a premeditated terrorist attack. I think it should not have come as a surprise to anyone given the quality of not only the public discourse, but also the perceived lack of institutional bipartisanship. A Jan. 6 Commission is needed to comprehensively investigate the origin of the riots.” R, Virginia, 20: “The capitol riots were the boiling point and explosion of long seething tensions, hatred, divisions and polarization of our broken political system. We already have investigations happening, a commission seems hyper symbolic and political in nature. I’m not super opposed to a commission, but it shouldn’t be the top priority.”  Question: Do you think it’s important to still look into what happened, even though the publicly accepted understanding is that it was an insurrection due to the election? R: “Should the rioters be found, tried, and penalized? Absolutely. We already are doing a pretty good job at that, and can do better by diverting more time and effort toward our Intel departments to get that job done instead of a Senate committee that seems more decorum and partisan than actually helpful. I’m not super opposed to a commission, but it shouldn’t be the top priority which it feels like it is.” A: “I think I disagree that the committee would be partisan. The method of choosing members of the committee was negotiated by one Democrat and one Republican, and I think it would include the same number of representatives from each party.”  R: “The notion of said committee seems partisan in nature, as it’s just a way for Dems to gain political prowess over Republicans, which the Republicans did to themselves already. I just feel like it’s a waste of time and would be conducted in bad faith.” J: “I would agree with that point. Most of the work is being done to understand anything beyond the known efforts of the event. A commission might be helpful for making a small statement, but also the current committee building work is not working out to be bipartisan.”  R: “That is a good point about the makeup of the committee. But the fact that only Dems mostly are pushing for one and Republicans are against it mostly shows this committee would be political and broken in nature.” J: “There might be a chance for making this a moment to reflect and provide a foundation for understanding – if the commission was driven by understanding the political culture throughout the U.S., divided as two parties (by vote, not culture or identity), we might be able to get somewhere.”  On The Make-Up Of the Committee A: “The reason I feel so strongly about implementing the commission is my fear that regardless of the intel report, whichever party that perceives it as politically damaging will simply try to discredit it as partisan. I think that the only way to insulate an investigation from that is to explicitly give both Dems and Republicans equal amounts of control.” R: “I am not aware of the proceedings to select a committee. I know you said it would be equal senators of Republicans and Democrats. Is that 100% for sure if the commission went through like it was in the legislation?”  A: “‘The proposed commission was modeled on the one established to investigate the 9/11 terror attacks, with 10 commissioners — five Democrats and five Republicans — who would have subpoena powers. A Democratic chair and Republican vice chair would have had to approve all subpoenas with a final report due at the end of the year. (Source: NPR).’” R: “Love the source. Wouldn’t the report be watered down, though? If I’m a Republican senator,  I realize that this is political suicide, and would do all I can to make this seem as minuscule as possible the minute I get the Senate majority. If I’m a Democrat senator, I’m looking at this as an opportunity to serve justice and totally pummel my opponent. So, it’s so hard because all of these factors come into play.” J: “Yeah. How probably would a committee like this actually come into place? I feel the events of the Jan. 6 commission vote in the Senate showed some true colors and thoughts on actually spending time on this.” R: “And you get a report that is more political than truthful in nature, and also doesn’t really add much.” J: “That seems scary in practice, and on paper.”  R: “I would much rather have the Senate establish a commission of intel, or something else, to do this, and have equal subpoena powers for updates. I just don’t like the idea of the Senate or House doing this, and they have much more important aspects to focus on.” Question: Do you think a commission would prevent another event like Jan. 6 from happening in the future? J: “No, I like to think that culture will dictate policy, and will only take time for policy to dictate culture.”  A: “I think that a commission could have second-degree outcomes that reduced the likelihood of a repeat; however, a report alone would certainly not prevent this from reoccurring. Withholding certain information from the public (as the intel report will) allows politicians to act only on public knowledge rather than on all the facts available to them. If that information was universally accessible, the legislative and executive branches would be under more pressure to address the report directly. ‘Virginia’ makes a good point that it would require a huge amount of trust to generate a report that earned the trust of both sides of the aisle.” R: “On the flip side, wouldn’t the public be more incentivized to want all of the report? So they would pressure their representatives and senators to subpoena, and vote people out who are being shady and opportunistic. That’s putting a lot more faith in the public. I would rather have faith in the public than in our politicians. Especially with social media, it’s easier to push for movements and transparency.” J: “Yes, of course.” Disclaimer: The opinions expressed on the BridgeUSA blog are not representative of the organization as whole, but of the individual BridgeUSA members having these discussions. They practice values of empathy and understanding, championed by BridgeUSA, to engage in these discussions. Check back for more discussions happening soon!