Within the six weeks of this class, I have learned so much about politics and have better understanding towards the different themes of the class, and this paper talks about the third theme, which is Political Polarization. As mentioned in Edwards’ Government in America, there is a culture war going on in our country and the polarization between Republicans and Democrats has intensified and has a fatal effect in our country (Edwards, 2012, p. 23). During the first week of the class, one of the videos that we needed to watch was Elizabeth Lesser’s TedTalk about “Taking the Other to Lunch.” Because we are a country of immigrants, everybody has different views and opinions based on our culture, tradition and beliefs. She discussed about how our culture is demonizing the other, how political polarization has transformed into violent extremism.
In Edwards’ Government in America textbook in Chapter 8, political parties started around the late 1700 and America’s first and shortest-lived major party is the Federalist Party. It was destroyed by the Democratic-Republicans or also known as Jeffersonians, and also torn soon after because of differences among its members. The Democrats was then led by General Andrew Jackson and started the American political party. However, Martin Van Buren, the man behind the party, insisted that there should be a loyal opposition to represent the other side of the political spectrum.
And this opposition was the Whigs, which eventually helped form the now Republican party. Although James Madison warned about “factions” and “parties” and how they can be dangerous (Edwards, 2012, p. 272), political parties have now become an American tradition that has grown today and has become polarized and distinctly different that you can now tell if a person is either Republican or Democrat based on their political stands, the people that they vote for in office and even the news channel that they watch.
In the recent years, this polarization has been intense that it has ingrained into our own lives. And through the years, there has been a decrease in civic duty by the decline of voter turnout in young adults. Distrust in the government has also increased. However, a different kind of political and social participation has surfaced and is undeniable that this kind is challenged and most often participated by young adults. There are different ways of political participation and showing support to a political party such as voting, volunteering, protesting, communicating with the officials, and now there is political consumerism.
Political consumerism is one lifestyle that has extended not only in politics but in our everyday activity. Political consumerism is buying or boycotting items, brands, companies, and other business-related services based on their political values. When Americans are confronted with information about the political activities of brands and corporations, they may be prompted to reward or punish them by either buying or refusing their goods or services.
Even though the goods and services are expensive but are politically aligned to the consumer’s belief, they will still purchase it as long as it would benefit their party. By having control and power on where they spend their money, consumers believe that they can make an impact on corporates and make a difference on policy change. Americans are now more reactive to political information and prone to political consumerism because of the increase of political polarization between Republicans and Democrats that is fueled by social media.
The effectiveness of political consumerism depends on the media’s attention that it attracts. Social media has played a role in dispensing political information and ideology all across the country and has significantly increased political participation through political consumerism. The amplification of critical observation of corporates’ political activity and non-stop media coverage, the online tools for transparency and its capacity to provide instant awareness has allowed consumers to behave in a political manner. Social media is highly relevant to citizens who are always online. It seems that, the rise of social media will also affect the rise of political consumerism because it has the capability to transform the sociopolitical landscape and extend to an individual’s interpersonal networks.
This kind of political participation is definitely not new. In Chapter 2 of Edwards’ textbook, the course of event that led to revolution was not an easy road. The British Parliament has increased taxes and regulations that antagonized the colonists. They started to protest and boycott the products and items that were being taxed (Edwards, 2012, p. 36). And I think that this is one the early examples in U.S. history where political consumerism was acted to display frustration to the British Parliament. Over the last decades, the market has made an increasing influence in the government, and in the public sectors, as well as in our private lives.
Because of this, the citizens turned to the market to assert their political issues and demand for social and political change. As mentioned, political participation such as voting, volunteering, writing to politicians has decreased but this kind of political participation has gained momentum especially after the 2016 elections. Our President likes to use Tweeter and he tweeted once “Buy L.L. Bean” which is an act to urge his supporters and encourage them to purchase goods and services at L.L. Bean after Linda Bean, the heiress of L.L. Bean and is a Republican activist, donated $60,000 to a pro-Trump political action committee (PAC) (The Hill).
In 2004, an app called BuyPartisan was developed that allows consumers to identify and purchase items that matches with their values and beliefs. It offers information such as a company’s political, ethical, environment stand on current issues. With just a scan of the item’s barcode, consumers can quickly get information about the company’s political values and activities, and can then make an informed decision to purchase the item or not. There are also other apps that challenges consumers to place their money where their political stands are. Recent examples of political consumerism include the calls by Democrats to boycott New Balance because it showed support on President Trump’s Trans-Pacific Partnership policy, and boycotts by Republicans against Starbucks after it criticized President Trump’s refugee policy.
Ivanka Trump’s fashion line has been a political pendulum as well between the left and the right. The people from the left declined to support it and even went beyond by boycotting malls or stores that carry Ivanka Trump’s brand, while the right supported her brand and the stores. The American Family Association asked people to boycott Target in protest of the company’s policy to allow people to choose a restroom that conforms to their personal gender identity. In our Discussion 5, we talked about elites and business corporates having a greater impact in the policy making process. There are also cases where business executive incorporates political values and meanings into their products to gain more support from those who agrees with them. It is a gamble because it may also alienate those that do not agree with them.
In this paper, I have provided explanations and examples as to how and why political consumerism has influenced the political landscape and has become another form of political and democratic participation. It has become one of our tool in voicing out our opinions and interests. Although the use of the market and us being able to have the purchasing power is nothing new, and has intertwined politics and activism for decades and centuries, this phenomenon has expanded in greater heights because of political polarization and the advancement of social media in the last years and there is no doubt that it will definitely soar higher in the coming years.