I am no fan of Donald Trump, but I can stand far enough back from his presidency to see that many of his critics are inadvertently already doing his re-election campaign for him. Today, Starbucks has reacted to Trump’s US travel ban on citizens of seven Middle Eastern and African countries by defiantly saying that it will go out and hire 10,000 refugees.
Can the coffee chain not see that this is exactly the sort of thing which attracts America’s white poor to Donald Trump: the suspicion that they are being overlooked in favour of cheap labour from abroad? In Starbucks’ case it isn’t just a suspicion – it has effectively confirmed that it wants to discriminate against American workers. If you are deliberately favouring refugees it inevitably means that you are going to disfavour other job applicants. Starbucks might think it can earn some virtue points by adopting such a recruitment policy, but it isn’t going to go down well in the US rustbelt if Somalians are going to be hired ahead of local workers who are desperate for any employment they can get.
Starbucks hasn’t said what it is going to pay its refugee recruits, but it isn’t hard to see how it is going to be interpreted by many: as an effort on the part of a wealthy and powerful business to lower its employment costs while simultaneously posing as a champion of the poor and oppressed. The words of Starbucks’ chief executive Howard Shultz, in a letter to employees, might please liberal-minded Americans: ‘We are living in an unprecedented time, one in which we are witness to the conscience of our country, and the promise of the American dream, being called into question.’ But to millions of Trump supporters it isn’t the new President who is shaking them out of the American dream: it is corporations such as Starbucks trampling, as they see it, on the little man.
This isn’t the first time that the coffee shop chain has shown itself cloth-headed in its attempt to read the public mood – it did so over its corporation taxes in Britain until finally realising it would be a good idea to pay up rather than devise ever craftier, if legal ways, of diverting profits to lower tax regimes. I am certain it is making the same mistake this time. Howard Shultz might as well have walked around Seattle wearing a sandwich board with words: ‘Vote Trump 2020’.