Chick-fil-A is best known for its chicken and past antagonism to the LGBTQ+ community. Most recently, the company became the focus of attention when some Notre Dame students objected to allowing the company to open a restaurant on campus. Notre Dame ultimately decided in favor of Chick-fil-A, noting a change in which organizations it donates to. The main change was dropping donations to groups that are seen as anti-LGBTQ (or at least unfriendly). This, as would be expected, has angered the culture warriors of the right. Despite this “betrayal”, Lindsey Graham was willing to “go to war” for the corporation. Quibbling over chicken chunks in a pandemic might seem irrational but one can make a case that this is an important fight. I, however, will not do this. Instead, I will focus on the subject of corporations, choices, and donations. This is a matter of ideology and ethics.
The right, as would be expected, has what seems to be an inconsistent position on corporate donations and choices. After all, they have made corporate money into protected speech, have argued that corporations should be free to do as they wish, but have also threatened corporations for expressing views that they dislike. But a consistent “principle” can be found under these inconsistencies: the right wants corporations to do what they (the right) like and do not want corporations to do what they (the right) dislike. They cannot, obviously, present this true principle—it lacks rhetorical power and, worst of all, shows that they do not have meaningful principles. Fortunately for them, they can consistently get away with their inconsistency: their base does not seem to recognize the inconsistencies or, if they do, they do not care. The right also does not care what the left thinks, so essays like these do not matter one bit to them.
While I do disagree with Chick-fil-A’s past stance on LGBTQ rights, the people controlling the organization do have the moral right to spend their money as they choose. These choices are, of course, subject to moral assessment—so while they do have the right to donate to anti-LGBTQ organizations, a moral argument can be made that they are acting wrongly by contributing to harming vulnerable people who are not doing them any harm. While the people controlling the money have the right to spend it as they see fit, people also have the right to be critical of these choices and to respond as they wish. These responses, like the spending, are also subject to moral assessment. So, when the students opposed allowing Chick-fil-A on the campus, they were acting well within their rights. One could even make the case they were acting as rational consumers: they did not want a business taking up space on campus that they did not want to patronize.
The people making the decisions at Notre Dame also have the moral right to make the decision about allowing the corporation to open a site on campus. And, of course, their decision is subject to moral assessment. The folks in charge did decide to allow Chick-fil-A on campus, asserting that they were satisfied with the company. While this is not entirely true, universities will do almost anything for money—so this might be a factor as well. As noted above, those call the shots at the company did decide to change who they donate money to. This, one would infer, is due to economic concerns: they believe that dropping these donations will help them sell more chicken. While some individuals making these decisions might have values that match the decisions they make, corporate stances on issues are calculated to maximize profits. As with any form of advertising and public relation moves, these can fail—even quite badly. But the goal is always to increase profits—the myth of the woke corporation is just that, a myth. That this is the case can be found by considering their other business practices, such as how they treat employees and society.
While the decisions makers at Chick-fil-A decided to change their donations, billionaire Dan Cathy still receives a significant chunk of money as the owner. He, as is his right, chooses to use his wealth to oppose LGBTQ rights. As such, while the corporation no longer donates money directly to these organizations and causes, money is funneled through the owner into these causes. So, when you buy from the company, you are donating to the fight against LGBTQ rights. As is your right to choose. For some, this is one reason they eat at the restaurant. For others, this is a reason they do not eat there. Many people, of course, either do not care or do not know. One obvious point is that almost any corporation you patronize is using some of its money for political purposes—purposes you might or might not agree with. For example, buying from Amazon helps fund the battle against unions. And buying from any corporation almost certainly helps fund their efforts to gain unfair advantages and exploit their workers and the communities that host them. This generally does not get the media attention that, for example, corporate donations on other side of the culture war.
In closing, it is worth remembering that corporations are generally not democracies: the workers and even most of the management do not get to vote on donations. One could say that they “vote” by choosing to work there, but that would be an odd thing to say—like “voting” by moving to a state and not being able to vote in elections. But these corporations have a significant political impact and shape American democracy, such as it is. As such, they allow a very few to concentrate power—just as they intended.
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