Growing up, I was taught that America is a global beacon of Democracy.
I was taught that people from all over the world leave behind their lives and homelands, sometimes willingly and sometimes under persecution, to immigrate to America for a better life — one where they will be accepted for their beliefs, their religions, their values.
I was taught that racism was a dark spot in our history that we’d patched over, that the Civil Rights movement happened and ended, that everyone in this country, regardless of color or creed, had equal opportunity to thrive.
The past year has shattered all of my preconceived notions of The American Dream.
It started with Black Lives Matter protests in June, when the wool was suddenly lifted from the eyes of so many privileged, white Americans (like myself), who were raised on a one-sided, whitewashed story about what America is and stands for.
My understanding of this country was smashed yet again last week, as pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol — tarnishing what is practically the logo for democracy around the world.
Images of white supremacists decked out in military-grade paraphernalia and antisemetic garb filled me with a horror that I can only imagine was a sliver of what my grandfather felt as he was marched into a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.
It seems I’m not the only American who feels like the rug has been pulled out from underneath them after last week’s events.
Corporate America has suddenly found its voice, as the CEOs of major companies, from JP Morgan, to General Motors, to Apple finally took a side on the issue of Trump and the violence he unambiguously incited.
Mass market brands from Verizon to Coca-Cola spoke out on social media, suddenly dropping a debate over the risk of alienating the 74 million people who voted for Trump and believe the lie he has so successfully propagated.
Over the past few days, the pushback has gone from performative statements to real monetary consequences.
Businesses and leaders with ties to Trump, including his biggest lender, Deutsche Bank, have dropped him like he’s gone out of style. Platforms including Stripe, Shopify, PayPal and GoFundMe banned Trump and those connected to the Capitol siege from monetizing their hatred. Companies from Amazon to Marriott are putting their money where their mouths are to stop funding politicians who supported the stolen election farce.
And then there’s the platforms, which have facilitated Trump and his dangerous conspiracy and given it a megaphone of unprecedented scale, who are just now starting to reel back the freedoms of speech they’ve allowed, and the filter bubbles they’ve fed, under the guise of the first amendment. (Twitter’s stock drop in response to finally banning Trump shows just how much we value profits over purpose in this country.)
Advertisers who have continued to funnel money into these platforms, regardless of irrefutable evidence of their role in fueling division and hate in our society, have a responsibility in this madness too.
These companies are finally speaking out and standing up for the image of America we all had in our heads and hearts.
But what good is an “S.O.S.” when the Titanic has already crashed into the iceberg and is halfway down the depths of the Atlantic?
Today, America finds itself in a position of its own making. Some of us believed the veneer of “fairness and equality” that covered over the ugliness. Others supported what they knew was wrong to uphold their own agendas. Others still sat back and stayed silent as America’s real story was exposed.
There’s no going back from what America saw last week at the Capitol. We can no longer deny that our country is fractured, with a fundamental disagreement over what is true or false, what is right and wrong.
Brands and companies don’t like to play politics, and I can understand why. But this crisis goes beyond a debate over impacting your NPS score or alienating your customers. It goes beyond continuing to fund media that erodes our democracy because “that’s where the consumers are.”
Corporate America has unmatched power in this country. It’s time to use that power to uphold our Democracy.
Let’s make America into the land of freedom and equality it so proudly purports to be.