Does the Target Pride Episode Signal Peak CEO Cluelessness?
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On Target Corporation’s May 17 earnings call, Chairman & CEO Brian Cornell complained that theft from its stores will hit the bottom line big-time, costing the retailer $500 million in profits this year. Even more ominously, he warned that stores are increasingly scenes of violence.

Meanwhile, two female employees of a Lululemon store in Atlanta are reported to have been fired for calling the police during a robbery. Video of the incident shows masked men, who reportedly had hit the store before, swearing at the women and removing goods with impunity.

Target may not be Lululemon, but it suffers from the same disease. The Target website boasts of the $100 million it is devoting to “advancing racial equity.” Of course, it is the embrace of “equity” at the expense of the concept of “equality” that provides the moral justification for shoplifting and organized theft. Target perpetuates a culture of grievance but then laments its inevitable result.

Target proudly links to groups that it bankrolls, such as something called “Vote, Run, Lead,” that offers podcasts titled, “How a Female Democrat Beat a Male Republican…,” “We are Done With Equality, We Deserve the Majority,” and even a film, “Time for Ilhan (Omar).”

To Corporate America, it’s as if half or more of the country does not exist. Until now, there has been little risk. The idea of leadership taught in business schools mostly disappeared years ago, replaced by what was once called political correctness, and now wokeism. As long as CEOs check the boxes of certain social and political causes, they are immune to media criticism and safe from the activists who would otherwise be their critics.

The list of causes, however, gets longer and weirder. Anheuser-Busch decided that the Bud Light brand could use a little freshening up with the help of Dylan Mulvaney, celebrating his 365th day of womanhood. The reaction has been an unprecedented, spontaneous boycott that has spread across social media. It has no real leaders, only participants, some famous and most who are not.

Now it’s Target’s turn. This time it’s not a brand that’s in jeopardy, but an entire enterprise. The company has 1,948 stores and was #32 by revenue on the 2022 Fortune 500 list.

When asked about the firestorm, CEO Cornell retreated to familiar territory. “The things we've done from a DE&I (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) standpoint, it's adding value,” Cornell said. “It's helping us drive sales, it's building greater engagement with both our teams and our guests, and those are just the right things for our business today.”

Oh really? Cornell has failed to fathom that he is on the wrong side of the cultural revolution that is being foisted on the American people. As the moral anarchists’ demands become more extreme, the reaction will become more furious.

“Pride” merchandise aimed at toddlers and “tuck-friendly” bathing suits are not just controversial, they embody evil. Gender is neither a cultural construct nor a form of oppression. Cornell made $17.6 million last year. For that money, shareholders might expect a simple grasp of biology.

In 2016, Target rode out a boycott by the American Family Association over a related issue, the use of the women’s room by biological males. More than a million people pledged to shop at Target no more. That any business could ignore one million consumers confirms the omnipotence of the forces to which CEOs have considered themselves beholden.

This time may be different. Woke executives cannot hide. When published a report that Target funds GLSEN, a group that promotes gender ideology in grade schools, Elon Musk tweeted it to his 141 million followers with the question, “Is it true?” (Yes, Elon, it is.)

Have we reached peak CEO cluelessness? Peaks are only obvious in retrospect, but we may be there.

Peter Flaherty is Chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center. 

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