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Leave Wayfair Alone

Don’t you see that you’re losing sight of the bigger picture?
by Jim Swift
June 26, 2019
Leave Wayfair Alone
MCALLEN, TX - SEPTEMBER 08: A girl from Central America rests on thermal blankets at a detention facility run by the U.S. Border Patrol on September 8, 2014 in McAllen, Texas. The Border Patrol opened the holding center to temporarily house the children after tens of thousands of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America crossed the border illegally into the United States during the spring and summer. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

A few weeks ago, the only news about online discount mega-retailer Wayfair and their beds was about allegations of bed bugs in their headboards. Not anymore.

As the immigration crisis worsens at the southern border, a photo of a drowned father and child and a shocking video of a DOJ lawyer have ensured that President Trump’s favorite issue remains squarely in focus at the top of every newscast.

Concerned individuals in Texas have tried going to these detention facilities to make donations to help the kids, who are often seen sleeping on the floor, under reflective thermal blankets. These would-be Samaritans are being turned away. (If only these kids knew, as Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) insists, that they are supposedly free to leave the detention facilities at any time!)

Whatever your thoughts on immigration are, most reasonable people agree that we should take care of others. Look at this small New Mexico town that is stepping up to take care of immigrants the Feds are dropping off en masse at a local McDonald’s. Even Bill O’Reilly is woke on this

Which brings us to the Woke Wayfair walkout and boycott.

The employees at Wayfair HQ—not the workers actually making cut-rate furniture in China—are now protesting their corporation’s agreement to sell the beds to the contractor that runs a child detention center. Others, including and especially celebrities, are calling for a boycott of Wayfair until the company changes its policies.

Which is the very definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Because don’t we—you know—want these kids to have beds to sleep on? It would be one thing if Wayfair supplied the fencing that the government used to create the detention centers. A company providing basic comforts to the detainees is the opposite of inhumane.

And this walkout/boycott will not change the fact that beds are—we hope—eventually going to be supplied for these children. Somebody else will step up if Wayfair caves. Which is good. You or I may not like President Trump’s immigration policies—that is what elections are for—but whether you like it or not, people are being detained. That’s just a fact. And we should all want these people to be treated properly. That means beds, toothpaste, adequate clothing, diapers, and much else. 

The Politicized Life is a real disorder and it can lead to boycotting obsessions: Sorry, I can’t buy Angel Soft or Brawny because of the Koch brothers. Can’t buy a Volkswagen or fly Lufthansa because of Nazi ties. 

Trump derangement syndrome—and this is also a real thing, even if it often is misdiagnosed—is feeding the boycott obsession in ways that are unhealthy and impractical.

If you want to say that you won’t stay at a Trump hotel, that’s fine. Reasonable people could make a distinction like that. But if you think Wayfair is wrong to sell beds for the children in the detention centers, then are Wayfair’s Chinese workers wrong for making the beds in the first place? What about the trucking company that ships the beds? What if the contractor running the detention centers buys a truck full of Crest toothpaste? Do you boycott Crest, too? Or everything that Procter and Gamble sells? This way lies madness.

There is also a worrisome precedent about insisting that American companies not do business with certain other businesses, people, or groups. Again: There are reasonable distinctions. Our government prohibits American companies from doing business with certain rogue states. Dell cannot sell a shipload of computers to North Korea, for instance.

But we have to be able to make reasonable distinctions, even in the Age of Trump. Does Wayfair really want to be in the business of vetting the end-user for every piece of furniture it sells? They’re free to do this, if they want. They’re a private company and it’s their business. But insisting that they have some sort of moral duty not to sell furniture to a company that’s going to use the furniture to make the lives of kids who’ve been detained a tiny bit better seems, well, not obvious.

And if you were to create this as a moral duty, then again, there’s a question of how the limits get set.

This Wayfair boycott and walkout isn’t helping anyone. And worse: it shows how quickly people are willing to lose sight of the bigger picture. The outrage isn’t that Wayfair is selling beds to those keeping kids in squalor. The outrage is that kids are being held in squalor.

Focus up here, people.

Virtue-signaling is foolish and gross, but it’s also harmful to society because it contributes to the general noise of everyday life. It makes it hard for people to focus societal attention and easy for people to dismiss genuine protests as just another outrage of the day. 

When protests that block traffic fade, traffic goes back to normal. That’s the way of the world and one of the reasons that street protests are so ineffectual as levers for change.

I fear that the Woke Wayfair protests, which will fade, will not actually solve a genuine outrage, but will only contribute to the normalization of this atrocity.

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.