CEO Faces Boycott for Appearing with President Trump: Explaining and Responding to 'Cancel Culture'

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Thursday, July 16, 2020
Cancel Culture, Biblical responses to cancel culture

CEO Faces Boycott for Appearing with President Trump: Explaining and Responding to 'Cancel Culture'


Why is a social media campaign trying to boycott a company that is donating two million pounds of food to food banks during the pandemic?

Last Thursday, Goya Foods CEO Bob Unanue was invited to a ceremony at the White House where President Trump signed an executive order creating the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative. Unanue announced his company’s food donation and stated, “We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder. And so we have an incredible builder. And we pray. We pray for our leadership, our president, and we pray for our country, that we will continue to prosper and to grow.”

Backlash was immediate and severe.

Working with two presidents

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro condemned Mr. Unanue’s statement on Twitter, claiming that he praised “a president who villainizes and maliciously attacks Latinos for political gain. Americans should think twice before buying their products.”

Chrissy Teigen stated on Twitter that she would no longer buy the company’s products. Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and star of the Broadway musical Hamilton, added this tweet: “We learned to bake bread in this pandemic, we can learn to make our own adobo con pimienta. Bye.”

This reaction is especially ironic given Mr. Unanue’s earlier work with the Obama administration. The Goya Foods website notes that “in 2011, President Barack Obama honored Goya for its continued success and commitment to the Hispanic community, the only company to ever be honored by the President. In 2012, Goya collaborated with First Lady Michelle Obama and the USDA” to launch a healthy eating initiative.

In response to the uproar last week, Mr. Unanue stated, “So, you’re allowed to talk good or to praise one president, but you’re not allowed to aid in economic and educational prosperity? And you make a positive comment and all of a sudden, it is not acceptable.” He added that he is not apologizing for his remarks supporting the president’s economic policy and would not turn down future invitations: “I didn’t say that to the Obamas and I didn’t say that to President Trump.”

Canceling Jimmy Fallon

Cancel culture” is defined as “removing of support for public figures in response to their objectionable behavior or opinions. This can include boycotts or refusal to promote their work.”

An editorial page editor at the New York Times resigned in the wake of fierce criticism after publishing an opinion piece by the conservative Sen. Tom Cotton. A professor at UCLA is under investigation for reading Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in his class since it included the N-word. Comedian Jimmy Fallon issued a public apology after the hashtag #jimmyfallonisoverparty went viral, protesting a video clip that surfaced from twenty years ago in which he wore blackface to impersonate Chris Rock.

Any of these issues could be addressed through conventional means. By contrast, “cancel culture” approaches use social media to organize an outcry that threatens swift reprisals if its demands are not met immediately. Anyone can organize such a protest, whether their outrage and called-for response are justified or not.

This phenomenon is causing alarm even on the cultural left. Harper’s magazine published “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” which was initially signed by 153 well-known writers and public intellectuals. They warn about “an intolerance of opposing views” and claim that “exposure, argument, and persuasion” should be utilized rather than “public shaming and ostracism.”

Cancel culture and the courts

The Supreme Court recently ruled that religious liberty concerns must be honored with regard to employer-provided contraception. The Court also found that religious schools are exempt from employment discrimination laws with regard to those who provide religious instruction. 

However, these rulings, welcome as they are, did not address the issues of abortion-causing contraceptives or LGBTQ activism in schools. They merely permitted Christians the “right to discriminate,” as some see it.

Cancel culture picks up where the courts leave off.

Just because corporate CEOs have the legal right to speak positively about President Trump (or President Obama) doesn’t protect them from social media critics who call for boycotts if they cross their cultural lines. Religious schools may still be able to offer religious education, but, if we disagree with the new LGBTQ orthodoxy, some will accuse us of a “vicious attack on LGBTQ people.”

Two biblical responses

This issue is much larger than we can address fully in one Daily Article. (I’m working on a website essay that addresses the subject and will be available next week.) However, we can observe two biblical responses here.

One: Standing for biblical truth requires persistent courage.

Joseph was “canceled” in slavery and prison, David in exile from Saul, Daniel in the lions’ den, Paul in prison, and John on Patmos. Jesus warned us: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). This is why Scripture repeatedly calls on us to serve our Lord with courage (cf. Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:9; Psalm 27:14; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:10; Philippians 1:28; 2 Timothy 1:7).

Two: Standing for biblical truth requires biblical grace.

When we treat those who reject us as our enemies rather than fellow humans for whom Jesus died, we perpetuate the caricature of Christians as unloving and intolerant. Conversely, when we love those who do not love us, we display the relevance and power of our faith and our Father (cf. John 13:34-35).

Our cultural critics can “cancel” us, but they cannot cancel our love for them. That’s up to us.

Publication date: July 16, 2020

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Wildpixel

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

The Daily Article Podcast is Here!

Click to Listen