Goya Foods CEO Robert Unanue found himself in the centre of a spicy debate over his recent praise of President Trump. Immediately after his controversial comments, which were made during a trip to the White House, social media erupted in outrage as users and influencers called for a boycott of his company’s products using the hashtags “BoycottGoya” and “Goyaway”.
In an interview with Fox News, Mr Unanue criticised the movement, claiming it was suppressing his right to free expression. He also called out the hypocrisy behind it, saying that he is being attacked for his association with this particular president and pointing out that there was no outrage when he appeared with Michelle Obama at an event in 2012.
Further inflaming the situation was the posting of photos by the President and his daughter both posing with Goya products; an apparent defence of the embattled CEO. While it has been suggested that this violates the Hatch Act, where a public office can’t be used to endorse products or commercial entities, neither Trump seems deterred.
No… I’m not including the photos…
The core of this controversy seems to be the right to free speech and the public’s reaction to it. First off – let’s identify why people flipped out over Mr Unanue’s comments. This goes back to Trump’s disparaging comments about Hispanics, as well as his overt hostility towards illegal immigrants from Latin America; stoking ethnic and racial animosity to score cheap political points with his “base”. Mr Unanue’s praise for President Trump is thus seen as both a failure to stand in solidarity with the Hispanic community and a tacit approval of the divisive rhetoric.
Now that that’s out of the way… let’s be clear about the freedom of speech argument. The First Amendment doesn’t explicitly grant to right to freedom of speech, only that government can’t pass legislation to prohibit it. Therefore, in the real world, it’s exercise by private individuals or entities is going to be subject to reactions by other private individuals and entities. In other words – just as you have the right to say whatever you want, you also have to be prepared for the consequences.
Now, let me be clear… I’m not advocating that if you insult someone’s mother they have the right to punch you in the face. No. But that person does have the right not to like it and, most importantly, to express their discontent within the confines of the law.
Case in point the public’s reaction to Mr Unanue – just as he has the right to express his opinion (whether positive or negative) about President Trump, so too does the public have the right to express their outrage and call for a boycott of his company’s products. He can’t have it both ways.
As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case – money is a form of free speech. Therefore, withholding money is a valid form of protest.
Do I like what Mr Unanue had to say with respects to President Trump? Honestly, that doesn’t matter. He has the right to express himself. And he did. And people have the right to be outraged and to express that outrage as well. If they want to punish him for it (and I know that’s a harsh word) in a way that damages his interests then he has to live with it.
If he can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen; he’s not going to find his products in there anyway.