Ever since Donald Trump came down the escalator and announced he was running for president, offending Macy’s so gravely that the retailer stopped selling his ties, the Trump family has had a troubled relationship with department stores.

The latest diplomatic rupture comes courtesy of Nordstrom and Neiman-Marcus, which announced that they will no longer carry Ivanka Trump’s branded merchandise.

Nordstrom sold her shoes, handbags and clothing, and Neiman-Marcus carried her fine jewelry on consignment. But no more.

Sales are down, the stores say, and they swear that’s the only reason they have dropped Ivanka’s brand.

But could there be another reason these stores are in such a hurry to hang Ivanka on the clearance rack?

Maybe the stores are afraid of becoming the target of enraged protesters, like the ones who set fires on the campus at Berkeley to shut down a political speech they didn’t like.

It’s not hard to imagine a management team and its insurance carrier having a conversation about the risks of being tied too visibly to the president and his family.

It’s not hard to imagine, but it’s kind of disturbing. Is this how it’s going to be for the next four or eight years? Will boycott organizers and protesters force companies to choose which half of the country they want to lose as customers?

Nordstrom and Neiman-Marcus were targeted by a boycott-organizing group that has posted an online list of companies tied in some way to Donald Trump. Did the CEO donate to the campaign? Did the company buy ads on “The Apprentice”? Did the store sell Trump family merchandise? Off with their heads!

Of course, it’s everyone’s right to shop where they choose and to refuse to patronize companies they don’t like, for whatever reason. It only becomes a problem when activists are intimidating other people from doing the same. With this election, clothing seems to have acquired the power to incite actual violence. At Berkeley, a 21-year-old student was beaten up on campus for wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap.

This isn’t new, but it’s new in politics. While people have been attacked for wearing the wrong team jersey in the wrong stadium parking lot, or for wearing gang colors on the wrong street, we don’t usually have tension over fashion on matters that were decided by the Electoral College.


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There was even tension at the Super Bowl, where some of the ads were as serious as a heart attack.

Audi’s ad showed a little girl driving in a go-kart race while her father shared his inner thoughts, statements that sounded like they came from a feminist fortune-cookie writer in 1970.

Budweiser’s commercial featured a re-creation of the company’s founder coming to America from Germany as an immigrant in the 1850s. With nothing but a notebook and the clothes on his back, he trudges to his destiny through marshy reeds and nativist character actors.

84 Lumber, a company that plans to expand and open more stores in the U.S., went full Hallmark-card with a heart-tugging portrayal of a struggling young mother and her daughter, who leave their family home in Mexico for the difficult journey north. They arrive to find their dreams blocked by President Trump’s wall, freshly completed by American workers (who look so glad to have jobs, they’re almost whistling). But then the young mother’s tears are replaced by radiant happiness as she sees that the wall has a big, beautiful door in it. The sunlight pours in on her as she opens the door to her new life. There’s a tag line celebrating the will to succeed.

You had to go to the internet to see the ending of that ad, because the network thought it was too political to run during the game.

These three ads attracted a lot of attention, but whether they’ll help sales remains to be seen.

Advertising is so expensive that nothing in it is there by chance. Audi decided it would sell more cars if it said it supports equal pay for equal work, and implied that some people don’t. Budweiser and 84 Lumber calculated that more of their customers were angry over Trump’s immigration policies than voted for them.

But look out for the backlash. Millions of people who watched the Super Bowl may have sensed that slick advertising agencies and their talented film crews were quietly calling them “deplorable.”

That could be permanently bad for business. Once politics gets on your brand, even Mr. Clean can’t get it out.

Susan Shelley is a columnist for the Southern California News Group. Reach her at Susan@SusanShelley.com.