It’s surprising Colorado conservatives get any sleep these days. First, they were worried about Critical Race Theory and leftist brainwashing of students. As it became apparent that few, if any, could explain what comprises CRT and fewer still were able to point to specific classrooms where CRT has been inserted into public school curricula – well, it seems to be time to promulgate the next political panic. “Woke capitalism” has emerged as the threat du jour. Zombie corporate CEOs who are allegedly objecting to the anti-democratic agenda on the Trumpist right walk among us. What a horror. What a betrayal.
The conservative scribes at the National Review devoted their July 1 issue to hyperventilating about these rogue executives objecting to “off-the-rails” populist blather. Devoted acolytes at the altar of market discipline, these conservative tribunes wail at the temerity of Fortune 500 CEOs who place social responsibility ahead of shareholder earnings. This aggrieved viewpoint is captured in a headline, “Firms that put profit over politics should outperform their progressive rivals.” Alas, as Kevin Williamson acknowledges elsewhere in the magazine, while recounting the history of woke capitalism going back to the anti-apartheid wars of the 1980s, “…there isn’t any consistently demonstrated evidence that activism undermines investment returns or business performance.”
Is it possible that corporate America has determined that joining in lockstep with the revanchist right might prove a forced march to fiscal collapse? Kyle Edward Williams, writing in the BAFFLER this month, reminds us that the right would like us to believe, “(that) CEOs…have taken flight from reason and forgotten who butters their bread. They are letting other motivations – the expectations of the cultural elite or the desire for popular approval – make them negligent of their duties.” Does this framing really pass the giggle test? Is it even vaguely plausible that the type A personalities who claw their way to the top of America’s largest corporations are ready patsies for the siren serenade of social responsibility? Something else must be afoot. The American left fears these newfound allies are indulging in a devious branding charade. Charges of greenwashing reflect their suspicions, woke capitalism be damned.
The recent corporate objections to voter suppression in Georgia, abortion restrictions in Texas and lunatic claims of election fraud everywhere are not the first time American business has allied itself with the political left. During the progressive era early in the 20th century, American industry stood in support of reform initiatives advanced by both Republican Teddy Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson — including workplace safety, workers’ compensation insurance and women’s suffrage. Wall Street solons also remained silent as anti-trust prosecutions were pursued against Rockefeller, railroads and predatory financial trusts. A similar complacency exists today towards the bi-partisan congressional posse assembling to bust up Silicon Valley. No company that advertises is any less a hostage of our tech titans than you or I. Smarter to play mute and wait to help clean up the roadkill.
Tea Party zealots have been shocked to discover the same corporate angels who financed their rise to power have turned on them. Rather than indulging in a searching and fearless moral inventory or recognizing the political tripe they are selling may not appeal to those whose profits depend on social and economic stability, they prefer to embrace the preposterous notion that the residents of executive suites have been mesmerized by the charms of socialism.
It’s true that corporate leaders were slow to recognize the radical populists they were nurturing detested them even more than liberal critics. Most liberals actually embrace capitalism, when appropriately constrained by regulatory guardrails, as the best guarantor of widespread prosperity. Elizabeth Warren’s acknowledgement during a presidential debate that, “I am a capitalist,” illustrates this affinity. Not so much for the fringe Republicans now urging the public to take up arms and revolt against COVID-19 vaccinations.
Extending authority to overturn election results to partisan legislatures sounds like a violation of constitutional principles in a democracy. Nor does rounding up women, their doctors, their cab drivers and family members for prosecution based on anonymous claims left on an 800-number tip line. Not to continue singling out Texas, but open-carry of firearms anywhere, anytime without licensing or training restrictions seems like a recipe for disaster. Even in the Wild West, gunslingers were expected to check their firearms at the saloon door.
Perhaps most amusing is the growing alarm expressed by fringe conservatives about the undue influence that an activist business community could have on our politics. Vivek Ramaswamy whines in National Review, “When we use dollars to win battles over ideas, we effectively convert our one-person-one-vote democracy into a one-dollar-one-vote system.” That never concerned the right when corporate dollars were flowing their way. Colorado’s conservative issue committees are currently in court to protect the anonymity of their dark money donors.