The Coca-Cola company has stepped into the nation’s political and cultural wars … which are increasingly the same thing. One’s first thought on learning of this is to groan and think, “Why don’t they stick to soda pop?” And, then, “Haven’t they done enough damage, already?”
The Atlanta-based corporation took a stand against a bill passed by the Georgia legislature and signed into law by the governor that has the effect, critics say, of disenfranchising Black voters. Some people agree. Others argue that similar laws in other states, including New York, are tougher.
Who knows? Anyway, these days most people choose their side in arguments like this on the basis of a pre-existing passion. Everything is reduced to us against them. And minds are very rarely changed by reasoned arguments.
The people who believe that the election was stolen from Trump are, in many ways, the mirror image of the people who believe that when he won, it was because he had deep, conspiratorial, and decisive help from the Russians. “Collusion,” it was called.
People can believe what they want to believe – it’s still a free country, right? – even if all the evidence suggests they are wrong. A lot of bad ideas and policies have enjoyed majority support. It is a feature of democracy. We once amended the Constitution so we could institute a reign of terror called “Prohibition.”
So there will be deep disagreements about some very important things. Some people will be right and some people will be wrong.
But why does the Coca-Cola company need to get involved?
Should the opinions of its CEO be given grave consideration because he runs a successful sugar water business?
That CEO wouldn’t hold the title if he were a bad businessman. If he didn’t understand the bottom line. And surely he is aware that there is a Democrat in the White House. And that Democrats have majorities in both the House and Senate.
The world runs on a fuel that is nine parts self-interest and one part idealism. If the CEO thought that he was jeopardizing the profitability of Coca-Cola by taking a position on the voter law, he would surely have found a way to remain above the fray.
“Hey, don’t come to me. I’m just a businessman.”
But say you are not sufficiently cynical to believe that he took his position because he thinks it is good business strategy for Coca-Cola. Maybe you believe he is sincere and an idealist who puts some ideals ahead of profits.
Well, then, bless your heart.
But there is another question worth asking. Namely, what if he is wrong? Coke has been wrong before, after all. At least once.
Remember “New Coke?”
The ordinary and conscientious citizen could be forgiven for feeling somewhat insulted by these corporate preachings. What makes Coca-Cola’s opinion special?
The company, in fact, had to apologize recently for urging, as part of a “diversity training” program, that its employees try to be “less white.”
Whatever that means.
And, if Coke wants to strut its virtue, maybe it should look beyond Georgia and consider involving itself in the governmental business of … oh, how about China?
There was a time when there was no Coke in China. That would have been after Mao took over in 1949 and banned it along with other imports from the decadent West. By the time Coke returned in 1979, millions of Chinese had never tasted it. But Coke played catch-up and today China is its third-largest market, after the US and Mexico.
Nobody gets to vote in China so you could say that, unlike the state of Georgia, it has created a system under which nobody is discriminated against. Everyone is equally … a slave. Then … there is the matter of “concentration camps” and “genocide.” These are not words you throw around casually so, presumably, the U.S. State Department chose them carefully when it used them – in its annual Human Rights Report – to describe China’s treatment of its minority Uyghur population.
The specific accusations in the report included mass detention, forced sterilization, rape, and torture inside what are, undeniably … concentration camps.
How much of the Chinese market for its product would the Coca-Cola company be willing to put at risk by taking a stand against this sort of thing? Maybe the company could withdraw its support of the 2022 Winter Olympics which will be held in Peking.
The law in Georgia may, or may not, be unfair and discriminatory. There are ways of having that argument. But the church of Coca-Cola does not have some sort of special standing or occupy some patch of moral high ground. It just sells soap.
Er … make that “soda.”
Geoffrey Norman is a former editor of Esquire magazine and is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard and National Review. He has authored more than 15 books and remains active shaping public policy discussions. He lives in Vermont.