Back in 2013, Starbucks made the fairly uncontroversial move of joining several major American companies in launching a veterans hiring program. It was neither the first big name to do so nor the last, and it was noted, celebrated, and then largely forgotten about. Now, four years of quietly hiring veterans and supporting veteran causes later, the company finds itself rolling out camo coffee sleeves — not just out of patriotism or to applaud the vets who’ve worked at their stores, but also because they’ve been forced to use their good deeds as social collateral.
This all stems from a specific branch of the far right’s bizarre love/hate relationship with the coffee chain, namely the fact that they announced they would hire 10,000 refugees. When the far right and the assorted Nazis and white supremacists hiding under its banner popped out to whine that Starbucks wasn’t hiring veterans, the aforementioned veterans stepped in to slap that wrongheaded notion down. Next it became that Starbucks wasn’t hiring enough veterans. Thus, it was decided a vaguely camouflage-esque cup sleeve with some statistics were needed, so here we are.
Starbucks, to be fair, is justifiably proud of its program, and the company’s actions show they didn’t just do this for good PR. It offers veterans and their spouses not just jobs but an ability to reintegrate into society. The job comes with benefits like online college courses to help veterans move on with their lives beyond just landing a paycheck. Starbucks works directly with foundations like Hiring Our Heroes (run, it should be noted, by the right-wing albeit hardly Trump friendly US Chamber Of Commerce) to find, recruit and bolster veterans. In reasonable times, this would be noble work, occasionally noted in profiles of former employees who went on to do great things or feel-good local newspaper pieces about coming home from war.
Instead, Starbucks, and the vets it employs, are now political footballs, and it’s kick or be kicked. It’s easy to blame Trump for this, but Starbucks is dealing people so hysterical and fragile that cup colors set them off. What makes all of this galling is the fact that the outrage this is countering is insincere. If those angry about Starbucks hiring policies really wanted to help the troops, they could simply donate their coffee money to any number of veterans’ charities. Instead, we get the baffling “protest” where people went in and gave Starbucks money to tell baristas their name was “Trump” for apparently no reason. What did this achieve, exactly, beyond annoying some poor hourly employee? This isn’t about the troops. For the Starbucks haters, this is about the bizarre need to be validated by a giant faceless corporation.
Starbucks should be proud of the work it’s done, but at the same time, they did it to help communities, not as some branding exercise. That they have to tout their hiring statistics at all is faintly absurd — that Starbucks wants to help veterans, and that veterans are happy for the help, should be what matters. Alas… until people calm the hell down, coffee camo it is.