We live in an era of gesture politics: walkouts, die-ins, marches, boycotts, hashtags, retweets. Our most strident political debates often aren’t debates at all but volleys of symbolic or metaphorical gestures. The point of these national pantomimes is not to make a rational case but to proclaim one’s affiliations and antipathies. They’re at their most repellent after emotionally harrowing events like race riots and mass shootings. Suddenly everybody—authors and intellectuals, politicians at all levels, your aunt Phyllis—sets about transmitting little signs of their crotchets and convictions.
After news of the school shooting on February 14 in Parkland, Florida, we went at it again. A few multinational corporations got in on the action, too, mainly for the purpose of distancing themselves from the National Rifle Association, the organization that, in the eyes of many progressives and gun-control proponents, was all but directly responsible for the murder of 17 people. On Twitter, Delta Air Lines announced that it was “reaching out to the NRA to let them know we will be ending their contract for discounted rates through our group travel program. We will be requesting that the NRA remove our information from their website.”
Now you might wonder what Delta’s executives knew about the NRA on February 14 that they didn’t know on February 13. If they credit the argument that the NRA shares responsibility for mass murders simply because it opposes most regulations on gun ownership, why were they in a relationship with the gun-rights group at all? Of course, Delta executives believe no such thing. They severed relations with the NRA to exempt themselves and their company from the ire of gun-control groups demanding a “boycott.” Fair enough. Delta is a private corporation and free to withdraw its support from any organization it wishes, even as I am free to call Delta a bloated mess of a company that treats its customers about as roughly as it treats their luggage. But in this case gesture politics spilled over into the equally ugly world of crony capitalism.
The lieutenant governor of Georgia, Casey Cagle, responded to…