CLEAR SPRING, Maryland — It's 7 a.m. at the McDonald's drive-thru just off U.S. 40, and a cheery freckle-faced server emerges from the side door to deliver an order to a car parked in a waiting area.
"Heeeere's your Egg McMuffin, young lady," she announces with a broad smile.
For the next half-hour, a flurry of travelers and regulars grab a quick bite on the run or settle in with friends to trade their thoughts on the Blazers, the local high school football team, and the team's new coach. Small talk about the weather, various aches and ailments, and their community also fills the fast food restaurant.
Often, when people think about McDonald's ownership, they picture a big corporation located miles from its restaurants, with the CEO disconnected from the communities he serves and the people who work for the corporation. But the truth is most of the restaurants that sit under the golden arches are franchises owned by people like Stan Neal, who owns this McDonald's along with 20 others in Maryland and West Virginia.
Neal got his start as a 15-year-old flipping burgers at a nearby Hagerstown franchise. He not only stayed rooted to his community but also gives back to it through donations to the local school, scholarship monies and free meals for the needy. A few years ago, when he owned a motel, he gave out free rooms after a historic flood hit the area.
Neal and the thousands of McDonald's franchise owners across the country are not the kind of big corporate bosses pictured by activists and critics. This complicates the increasingly hysterical and frequent boycotts of corporations perceived to have violated some woke dogma.
"People want to make a statement by boycotting corporations because of the political views of the ownership," said Tom Maraffa, professor emeritus at Youngstown State University. "In the case of fast food companies, often the local restaurant which would be the subject of the boycott is a franchisee who may have held the franchise years before the current political climate and may even have political views that differ from those corporate leadership."
Never mind the actual employees.
Last week, Olive Garden was targeted — falsely — as being a corporate supporter of President Trump. Last month, a boycott was called against Equinox and SoulCycle because owner Stephen Ross was hosting a fundraiser for Trump. Several weeks ago, Nike pulled patriotically inspired shoes with the Betsy Ross flag because brand ambassador Colin Kaepernick objected to the design, causing people on both sides to proclaim their intent to boycott the brand.
It's all so exhausting.
The outrage mob has become such a parody that stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle took a poke at the culture in his new Netflix special. He did an impersonation and asked the audience to name the target.
He said: "Duh! Hey! Dur! If you do anything wrong in your life, duh, and I find out about it, I'm gonna try to take everything away from you, and I don't care what I find out. It could be today, tomorrow, 15, 20 years from now. If I find out, you're f—-ing, duh, finished!"
While the audience began yelling that he was impersonating Trump, Chappelle instead pointed directly back at them and said: "That's you! That's what the audience sounds like to me. That's why I don't be coming out and doing comedy all the time, because y'all ... is the worst motherf—-ers I've ever tried to entertain in my f—-ing life."
In other words, it is not just corporations that are being boycotted or canceled. It's individuals who are being canceled by culture and the journalist class. This past week, The Washington Post ran a piece in which it flagrantly smeared author J.D. Vance, absurdly labeling his laments about the falling birthrate in America as white supremacy.
Maraffa argues that however visible this cancel culture and boycott fever are, they have not found their way into American life in a broad and meaningful way. When they do, it often backfires.
Consider the case of Chick-fil-A, when the social justice crowd went into full protest against the Georgia-based company for the faith of its leadership. Despite hundreds of protests, and government bodies in San Antonio, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, banning Chick-fil-A restaurants in their airports, nothing has gotten in the way of the company's unmatched growth.
Maraffa worries about what things would look like, though, if real life were to become like Twitter. What if boycott lists were something people carried on their person or in their smartphone?
"It's not beyond the realm of possibility," he warns. "Performance wokeness is a plague, and we should do everything we can to avoid it from seeping into our daily lives."
Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.