In Punishing Delta, Georgia GOP Chooses Guns and White Privilege Over Progress
For decades, Atlanta-based Delta has symbolized the city’s cosmopolitanism and growth. Maybe the state’s Republicans hate that as much as anything else.
In an act of retribution against Delta Air Lines’ decision last Friday to stop providing discounts to NRA members, Georgia’s state legislature on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to pass a bill that stripped away a $50 million sales-tax exemption on jet fuel. Delta is far and away the biggest airline in the state so it would have been the main beneficiary of the exemption.
Political revenge and attacking major businesses has now become the modus operandi of the supposedly pro-business GOP, and Georgians should be appalled at the lengths their political leaders will go to defend the NRA.
I was born and raised in Georgia and it is difficult to exaggerate the significance of Delta in the state. Atlanta has been Delta’s headquarters since 1941, and the airline just signed a 20-year extension to its lease at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. That would make nearly a century of Delta calling Atlanta home.
Delta is also Georgia’s #1 private employer with 33,000 employees, and Delta is directly responsible for $43.5 billion in economic impact in the state each year. When it started it was a little regional airline. By the 1980s it was a titan, flying all over the world. If you live in and move around Atlanta, it is impossible to not know someone employed by Delta, and as a kid growing up in the Atlanta suburbs I had plenty of friends whose parents worked for Delta.
Also, I’m a kid of the ’80s and ’90s. This era was defined by a celebration of Atlanta’s diversity and a city-wide commitment to turning Atlanta into a city with global influence. Ted Turner created CNN in the ’80s, and the network’s coverage of the first Iraq War in the early ’90s made Atlanta the headquarters of world cable news at the time. The Braves won the World Series in 1995, and the Olympics came to town in 1996—a staggering achievement for a Southern American city, which not so long before, historically speaking, was an apartheid city.
This was a magical time in Atlanta, and Delta was right there. Atlanta had long been Delta’s primary hub, and as the city grew, so did our airport, and so did Delta. By 1998, Hartsfield-Jackson had become the busiest airport in the world, and Delta had become emblematic of Atlanta’s global reach and ambitions. No corporation, not even Coca-Cola, based in the city since its 1886 inception, so symbolized Atlanta’s cosmopolitan progress.
And now, despite Delta’s transformational impact on the state, Georgia’s Republican legislators have chosen the NRA over the airline. They chose guns and white privilege over economic growth and international prestige. The NRA’s mostly white members and the conservatives who support them see discounts, partnerships, and privilege as an essential component of their way of life, regardless of the impact of their actions or the toxicity of their beliefs. This can’t be overlooked.
This sordid affair began on Monday when Georgia’s Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle 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.”
Considering the high volume of outlandish tweets that regularly come from the White House and the GOP, many did not think much of Cagle’s bravado at first. Most questioned the legal implications of his statement and wondered if it was a violation of the First Amendment or simply blatant corruption.
But with the short-sighted, hypocritical determination that remains particular to today’s GOP, Cagle convinced the Republican-controlled legislature to remove the sales-tax exemption on jet fuel from their previously approved tax bill. Georgia’s Republican Gov. Nathan Deal says that he will sign the bill, despite being frustrated by the “antics” of his fellow Republicans.
Deal isn’t the only person frustrated by the “antics” of the Republican Party, but Americans can ill afford to enable the GOP and their dangerous pro-gun, NRA supporting agenda.
Following the Parkland, Florida, shooting, over a dozen businesses have severed ties with the NRA or implemented restrictions on gun purchases. Dick’s Sporting Goods has stopped selling the assault-style rifles including the AR-15 used in the massacre. Walmart has also raised the age limit to purchase a gun or ammunition to 21. United Airlines also followed Delta’s lead and stopped providing NRA members with discounts. But Cagle didn’t attack United or any of the other companies that have changed course following the Parkland shooting.
Cagle’s attack on Delta was clearly a petty, personal political attack against a major Atlanta business, and it speaks to a type of corruption and systemic white privilege that has largely become re-normalized in America.
Cagle is furious that the NRA will no longer receive special treatment from Delta. Delta has not said that it will deny services to the NRA, create specific NRA member sections at the back of the plane, or invoke its corporate religious beliefs to treat NRA members as second-class citizens. Delta has merely ended its affiliation with another company while remaining neutral on the issue of gun rights.
After Delta’s decision to remove a sliver of privilege from the NRA, Cagle responded by saying that “discrimination against law-abiding gun owners will not solve the problem.”
Note: For Cagle and the rest of Georgia’s Republican Party, a loss of privilege—even on something as minor as group discounts on airfare—equates to discrimination. As an African American who grew up in South, I’ve regularly encountered white Southerners who rail against a loss of privilege as an attack on their freedoms. The prioritization of whiteness, the expectation of favors, or a quid pro quo amongst business elites, who almost always are white, has become the expected norm of society.
This standard consumes the entire region and infects all walks of life, even those situations that are not overtly racist. It creates a coterie of political and business elites more consumed with sustaining their power and privilege than serving the public’s interests.
Delta broke this unspoken rule, and it is now being punished for it to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Georgia’s Republicans could not care less about gun control and would rather spend time attacking a company that supports 33,000 jobs and generates billions of dollars in revenue each year.
Georgia’s Republicans have no desire to serve the public and only care about sustaining their privilege. As a Georgian, I doubt that Delta will leave the state anytime soon. It is almost unimaginable, and the economic impact would be devastating. But if Georgia’s conservatives continue to attack it and undermine Delta’s business in defense of white privilege I would not begrudge Delta leaving. Countless African Americans have made the same decision for hundreds of years.