Donald Trump is threatening to sue Angelo Carusone, the creator of the “Dump Trump” petition, for $25M. Carusone is gathering signatures of people who believe that Macy’s should cut business ties with Trump in order to honor its commitment to social responsibility. The petition is nearing its goal of 700,000. Once that goal is reached, Carusone will deliver the petition to Terry J. Lundgren, Macy’s chairman of the board, CEO and president. However, the petitioners are likely playing right into Trump’s hands by giving him and his products free publicity at no real cost.
According to Carusone and his petitioners, Macy’s ought to eschew any relationship with Trump or his products, which are tarnished with the name of a man who “engages in especially unpleasant, nasty and despicable behavior.” The petition labels Trump as a sexist, a job-killing outsourcer, a climate change-denier, and a potentially racist birther. If Macy’s continues to stock Trump’s products or maintain Trump as a spokesperson, the company will prove hypocritical in its commitment to social responsibility as envisioned — but never defined by — Carusone and his righteous army of signature-wielders.
The sins that the petition levies against Trump are nothing new; the mainstream media has widely promulgated and discussed them. In this case, one might expect that Trump and his team of elite business advisors would follow the maxim to never go looking for a problem when there isn’t one. So why is Trump making a big fuss over this petition?
Lundgren, Macy’s CEO, has already publicly defended Trump and Macy’s decision to carry his products. Lundgren has made it clear that Macy’s has no intention of dumping him or his products. In a letter to Carusone, Lundgren stated,
“Please understand and appreciate that Macy's marketing and merchandising offerings are not representative of any political position. Ours is a free society compromised of a wide range of viewpoints. Many of the individuals associated with products sold at Macy's — or at any retailer, for that matter — express personal opinions that are not related to the merchandise we sell or to the philosophies of our company.”
Lundgren strikes at the heart of the matter. Caursone and his petitioners are not upset by Trump’s products per se. They are upset because they do not like Trump, not because of his general unpleasantness, as they weakly claim, but because of his politics. Trump affronts the ideology of the left, and Carusone and his petitioners wish to punish him and his associates for it. They have taken the fight out of the political area and staged it in the economic.
However, Carusone and his petition will likely backfire against his cause. A business’s primary goal is not the welfare of society but the welfare of the business. These two goals are neither necessarily nor normally contradictory, but the priority is clear. In this case, Macy’s earns money from Trump and his products, and to what extent either poses a threat to the general well being of society is arguable. Regardless, Macy’s is not in the business of vetting the political ideology of its vendors to determine who stays and who goes. Such a business strategy is as absurd as it is enervating. The crippling activism of the California Public Employee Retirement System serves as an apt example.
With Lundgren already defending Trump (and capitalism for that matter), it is unlikely that Macy’s will dump the Donald because of the petitioners’ influence. Nor is there any real reason for Trump to actually file a suit against Carusone. Instead, the hype over the threat of this suit generates a great deal of free advertising (nota bene, gentle reader, what article you are reading now?) and Macy’s and Trump’s products could see a temporary boost in profits. Remember the Chick-fil-A effect? Odds are Trump is betting on such backlash.
Macy’s would do itself a great disservice if it attempted to arbitrate political tastes rather than fulfilling those of the American consumer. Carusone and his petitioners have publicly highlighted their shopworn reasons for not liking Trump. However, their petition will unlikely have any effect beyond raising those points and potentially further lining the pockets of the man that they so demonize.