Yesterday morning, buried in my news feed among alarmist and often distressing Trump-related tweets, I came across a headline that immediately grabbed my attention: “New Balance is the first major sportswear company to publicly back president-elect Donald Trump”.
The article in question was published by Sole Collector, a magazine devoted to all things sneaker. It cited comments from the company’s VP of public affairs, suggesting that the Obama administration had “turned a deaf ear” to the Boston-based brand through its support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and expressing hope that under the new administration “things are going to move in the right direction.”
Lets pause for a moment here.
I will be the first to tell you that this is not a political blog. What I love more than anything else about running is the tremendous capacity it has to unite people who might ostensibly have little in common. By extension of this, my writing has always attempted to eschew the divisive and the political; what interests me are the things that bring us together, not the things that tear us apart.
The recent election has been the most contentious, most divisive political contest I have had the displeasure to witness in my lifetime. By any metric, America appears to be a deeply fractured nation. I am shocked and saddened that a person with so little regard for the values of freedom, democracy, rule of law, and the inherent dignity of all human beings, could be elected to the highest office in the most powerful nation (yes, still) in the world.
This election went beyond the usual business of partisan politics; opposing Mr. Trump’s platform of bigotry, hatred, sexism, racism, and xenophobia has become a moral imperative. But opposing his views on the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not.
I watched this morning as my social media feed exploded with righteous condemnation of New Balance. Horrified customers declared that they would boycott the brand. Some posted photos of their sneakers, tossed into the trash; others went a step further, and set the shoes on fire.
While I sympathize with the feelings of anger and disgust that underly these actions, I cannot help but feel that they are ultimately misguided, and a waste of valuable energy and resources. A cursory reading of the article itself made it clear that the brand anticipated positive changes with the coming administration with respect to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But for the reactionaries on Twitter, the content was irrelevant; the click-bait headline was enough.
New Balance, with its New England-based factories, has significant interest in protecting the viability of American manufacturing. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multi-national agreement to reduce trade restrictions, arguably puts that in jeopardy. Though championed by the Obama administration, the TPP has been met with significant bi-partisan opposition. One of its most vocal critics is president-elect Donald Trump; another is Hillary Clinton.
Look, multi-national trade agreements are complicated. The world we live in is complicated. It’s also deeply flawed, and desperately in need of the kind of impassioned moral outrage that sneakerheads and road race junkies showed toward their New Balance kicks yesterday.
But that moral outrage only gets us somewhere if we direct it at the right targets.
You can’t take down a demagogue, or save the world from the spectre of proto-facsism, if you can’t manage to get past an incendiary headline. Politicians have long relied on superficial diversions like these to provide a focal point for public outrage. They’ve relied upon them because, properly mobilized, there is nothing so dangerous to a corrupt regime than an angry and organized populace.
There are so, so many things you can do to fight back against injustice in this world. But setting fire to your shoes isn’t one of them.
Chase big dreams.