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Disagree with Howard Schultz? You’re ‘un-American’

January 30, 2019 GMT

Former Starbucks honcho Howard Schultz, very publicly contemplating a run for the presidency and hawking a new book, has a crisp riposte for every policy he disagrees with: “un-American.”

Don’t support giving “Dreamers” a path to citizenship as part of an immigration deal? Why, that’s “un-American,” Mr. Schultz said on CNN on Wednesday.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s contention that the existence of billionaires is evidence of policy failure? “So un-American,” he responded this week.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris’ proposal for Medicare-for-all? Not just wrong, but “not American,” he says. (Medicare-for-all would be tremendously expensive, after all, and if there’s one thing American government is known for, it’s fiscal rectitude.)

Mr. Schultz, apparently eager to resurrect Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee, is hardly the first public figure to repair to this particular form of demagoguery. Politicians who “play on people’s fears”? Un-American, according to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. President Trump’s response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi? Un-American, says newly retired Sen. Bob Corker. The president’s criticism of the news media? Un-American, says former CIA director John Brennan. A bill to limit the number of refugees who can enter the United States? Un-American, according to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton.

It’s understandable why, in a country without a shared ethnic identity or even an official national language, our citizens would puzzle over what, exactly, is “American.” Ours is a national identity based largely on an idea. When asked the question of what it means to be a member of our country, we lack the clear answer that a Japanese or Greek citizen has. But that makes it all the more imperative that people in positions of power tread carefully when it comes to casting people outside of the American experiment simply because they happen to hold a position one finds obnoxious or unwise.

There’s an irony, too, in the fact that Mr. Schultz, of all people, would deploy “un-American” as his insult of choice. After all, his more than $2 billion fortune owes much to his having the vision to expand the definition of what constitutes “American” behavior.

By his own telling, in 1983, Mr. Schultz, then the marketing director of an obscure wholesale coffee operation in Seattle called Starbucks, took a trip to Italy for a trade show. As he walked the cobblestoned streets of Milan, Mr. Schultz was struck by the city’s thriving cafe culture. He noticed that the Milanese were not simply buying beans and taking them home, they were sitting inside and outside cafes, enjoying themselves.

“In each shop I visited I began to see the same people and interactions, and it dawned on me that what these coffee bars had created, aside from the romance and theater of coffee, was a morning ritual and sense of community,” he would later recall.

At the time, American coffee culture was so much diner swill and Maxwell House. But Mr. Schultz wanted to change that. “I left Italy absolutely energized by the [cafe] culture, “Mr. Schultz said. “I couldn’t wait to sit down with the two remaining founders of Starbucks and tell them, ‘We’ve got to do this.’”

A year later, the founders allowed him to open a test espresso bar in Seattle. The rest is coffee history not only are there now some 14,000 Starbucks outlets in the United States, but also thousands of independent cafes that owe their existence to Mr. Schultz’s foresight. Indeed, because of him, sitting in a coffee shop savoring a latte is now just as “American” as downing a Maxwell House before heading to work once was.

Although, calling a medium-sized coffee a “grande” will never, ever be American.

Ethan Epstein is deputy opinion editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at eepstein@washingtontimes.com or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.