One Short Goose-Step Away

A young man kills 17 children and adults at a school. It’s not the first time and it surely won’t be the last. The surviving students react strongly that they have had enough of the killing and demand that governments at all levels do something to restrict the free flow of military-grade assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Republican politicians and their followers, sensing that the popular tolerance for the American gun culture is reaching its limits, double down in near-panic. They attack the surviving students as being too young, too immature, too “emotional,” too “whatever” to be trusted to have independent thoughts about what has happened and what should be done about it. Right-wing conspiracy proponents claim the students are actually paid actors working for the “left” and that they should be disregarded. And so it goes, promoted and sustained by the National Rifle Association.

One of the consequences of this state of affairs is that many large companies have decided to terminate discounts they provided to members of the NRA. This is the same NRA that has resisted every reasonable effort to expand background checks, end the gun show loopholes, and conduct government research into the causes and effects of gun violence in the United States. The NRA’s position is clear:  more guns are always better and any effort, not matter how small and incremental, to address gun violence is an existential threat to the American way of life.

Among the companies that finally said “enough,” is Delta Airlines which is headquartered in Atlanta, GA. Delta announced the end of its NRA discount, that, according to reports, involved only a handful of people but was seen by the company as an important signal of social responsibility.

In response, the Georgia legislature passed a bill revoking the multi-million tax break for jet fuel Delta had enjoyed. The Lt. Governor, running for governor, tweeted:

I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA.  Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.

The sitting governor has indicated he will sign the legislation into law.

Now, it’s a fair question why the State of Georgia was subsidizing Delta in relation to its competitors using tens of millions in taxpayer funds, and there would be no quarrel, I think, if the state decided that subsidizing a commercial company was inappropriate as a matter of general government policy. Free market and all that. But the state’s response to the NRA decision by Delta is something else altogether.

The decision to revoke the tax exemption represents the use of the power of the state to compel a private company to continue doing business with another private company on terms approved by the state. So far, Delta has stood firm against this oppression, noting that its “values are not for sale,” but the equivocating has begun as Delta also said it was “in the process of a review to end group discounts for any group of a politically divisive nature.” If so, Delta appears to be on the verge of knuckling under to the right-wing agenda of the Georgia legislature. It will be interesting to see how Delta defines groups of a “politically divisive nature.” This approach seems unlikely to end well.

The Georgia state action is, I suggest, a short goose-step away from the state deciding that companies doing business in Georgia must extend discounts to other companies and groups of which the state approves — compulsory business relations as the state dictates. If the State of Georgia can selectively punish Delta this way, it can reward and punish other companies in whatever manner the ruling party decides. Amazon, which is looking at Atlanta as the site of its second headquarters, should take note.

The road ahead in Georgia is dark and foreboding. Any resemblance between the governing party in Georgia and the Republican belief in the operation of the free market and conservative economic principles is not only coincidental, it is non-existent. Dead on arrival.

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