David Hogg rose to national prominence for his gun-control activism in the wake of a shooting at his school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Since then, he and his classmates have become some of the most prominent Generation-Z activists, eclipsed perhaps only by Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg.
Last month, in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Hogg made an announcement. He was starting a company called Good Pillow to compete with MyPillow, with entrepreneur William Legate as his business partner. This was not a random choice. MyPillow’s CEO is Mike Lindell, a conspiracy theorist and prominent supporter of former President Donald Trump. However, Hogg’s decision was a misstep. When he founded this company, he made the choice to harness partisan outrage for his own benefit. Good Pillow will undoubtedly sell well, snatched off the shelves by liberals who will do anything to distinguish themselves as being on the right team. The company claims they have racked up more than a year’s worth of preorders, but they are tapping into some of the worst parts of the American political machine to do it. Good Pillow’s decision to set itself up as the anti-MyPillow is indicative of current divisions, but it also reinforces the norm of a polarized nation.
You may be wondering why this bothers me. Aren’t there more important things to be writing about? Well, polarization is the most significant challenge facing the American political system today. For example, the number of states with a senator from each party is near an all-time low. Democrats and Republicans consume different media, live in different neighborhoods and occupy different realities. Now, even pillows will be another product, service or activity to become polarized. Outside of the upholstery world, this sets a bad precedent — and is simply bad politics.
Most Democratic politicians have avoided these broader culture war appeals and to their benefit. Democrats refusing to engage with the right on issues like Dr. Seuss or Mr. Potato Head has allowed them to focus on policy instead of leveraging painful divisions for electoral gain.
After announcing this plan, Hogg received backlash. Another Parkland survivor, Cameron Kasky, tweeted, “To those of you who marched, donated, lobbied, and called for change… I’m so sorry this is what it turned into. This is embarrassing.”
Hogg didn’t address Kasky specifically, but responded to the backlash via Twitter: “To all those questioning my intentions sincerely fuck off I refuse to feel guilty about wanting to help people and feed myself and pay for therapy. You may not agree with how I do it- but ultimately I know what my intentions are – to help people. I’ll prove it.”
In their initial announcement, Good Pillow established their intentions, some of which include providing well-paying union jobs in the United States, employing veterans, refugees and people with disabilities and doing it all sustainably. I don’t doubt these motivations — I don’t know either of these upholstery entrepreneurs and have no reason to distrust them.
It does not matter if this really is the goal. What matters is that Good Pillow is exploiting political polarization, using the cracks in our society as a convenient place to get a handhold and wrenching us further apart as a result.
What’s the use in criticizing David Hogg? Hogg has gotten more than several lifetimes’ worth of incredibly cruel, unfounded criticism. Footage surfaced last month of current U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., harassing Hogg when he visited the Capitol as a high schooler who had recently endured a school shooting. I do not intend to continue in Greene’s footsteps. I am criticizing him because he is a public figure with over a million followers on Twitter, and he can do better.
Rep. Greene is exactly the reason that Hogg and Legate should not have founded this pillow company. Greene was pulled from her committee assignments last month for a history of supporting conspiracy theories that are both not grounded in reality and incredibly toxic. Greene would not have been elected ten years ago. The reason she found electoral success was because she was able to ride the waves of mistrust and misinformation which have swept over the Republican Party.
I don’t believe that Hogg and Greene — or Hogg and Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., or Hogg and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. — are equal in their vitriol. But they do unfortunately share a similar political strategy today: leveraging Americans’ distaste and mistrust for the other side of the political spectrum to accomplish a goal. So much of the Good Pillow advertising thus far has been aimed at making Republicans mad. The same day he announced Good Pillow, Hogg tweeted, “You want to make an inserectionist (sic) freak out? Tweet #GoodPillow.”
Democrats can’t win a culture war, but they can win a policy war. There is no use in fighting for Mr. Potato Head or Dr. Seuss — these sorts of cultural issues are some of the only things drawing young people to the Republican Party. I care very little about “owning” Mike Lindell, and it’s unfortunate that Hogg has decided that cultural warfare is the way he wants to shape his public career.
30 years from now when I am sipping ginger ale on a golf course with Hogg and the Queen of Spain, he may ask why I was so critical of a young intelligent entrepreneur and a survivor of intense trauma. I hope by then the culture war is long dead. The fact that this piece is a response to a specific cultural situation doesn’t make it immune from criticism today or in the future. The message I want to communicate is that in this epoch, exploiting polarization is easy, and for many people, it is preferable to earnest discussions. This type of incentivized division has incredibly real and negative effects on our national discourse and on our society. I hope the American people don’t take the bait, and instead invest in a high-thread-count, non-partisan pillow.
Julian Barnard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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