Republicans Are Too Subservient to Corporate America to Wage War on “Woke Capitalism”

Republicans Are Too Subservient to Corporate America to Wage War on “Woke Capitalism” thumbnail

“From election law to
environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of
the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government. Corporations
will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to
hijack our country from outside the constitutional order. Businesses must not
use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that
citizens reject at the ballot box.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, April 5

The phenomenon of a Republican Party leader
threatening corporate America never seemed that noteworthy when President Donald Trump did it, because Trump,
after all, exhaled narcissistic bluster in every direction. But when an
ice-cold Machiavellian like Mitch McConnell does it, that’s a signal for the
rest of us to pause for a moment to recover our bearings.

Have corporations suddenly gone leftist? Did
the power relationship between the business lobby and the Republican Party
reverse itself while we weren’t looking, rendering corporations the servant and
the GOP master?

On considered reflection, the answer to both
questions is “no.” But power relationships are always more subtle than we imagine,
and McConnell’s outburst gives us an opportunity to remember that the dance
between business, the federal government, and the Republican Party is far more
nuanced than that
Thomas Nast
cartoon we all carry around in our heads.

The phrase “woke capitalism” was coined by New York Times columnist Ross
Douthat, who described it in 2018 as “a certain kind of
virtue-signaling on progressive social causes” undertaken by C-suite big
shots to “blunt efforts to tax or regulate our new monopolies too heavily.” That’s
about right. Granted, woke capitalism also reflects the mindset on social
issues of the college-educated urbanites who tend to work at major corporations.
You won’t find a lot of born-again Christians working at Google or General
Motors. But Douthat sees it mainly as a feint to appease Democrats whenever
they take power in Washington, as they did this past January. I would add that
it’s also a manifestation of corporations’ natural inclination to avoid risk
that the extremism of today’s GOP scares them out of their wits.

Over the past three decades,
corporate virtue signaling tended to succeed with a Democratic Party that was
loath to challenge corporate power too aggressively and eager to solicit
corporations’ financial support. Those imperatives haven’t disappeared, but the
Democrats are now pushing a somewhat more left agenda on issues that affect
corporations’ bottom lines. President Joe Biden wants to hike the corporate tax
rate from 21 percent to 28 percent; he wants to eliminate the “right-to-work”
option wherein certain states allow workers in union shops to avoid paying
union fees to cover their share of collective bargaining; and he may soon commit
the United States to lowering greenhouse gases 50 percent by 2030.

McConnell is telling
corporate America, in effect:
Look who you’re dealing with. Gestures like
Major League Baseball moving the All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver to
protest Georgia’s new ballot law won’t appease today’s Democrats.
He may be
right. (Let’s hope he is!) But McConnell’s threat that the business lobby will
suffer “serious consequences” from
Republicans for trying to appease
Democrats isn’t credible, and the business lobby knows it.

For the past four years
we’ve seen a steady march of news stories asserting that the relationship
between business and the Republican Party was weakening. It has frayed somewhat,
but that’s mainly because corporations treated the GOP more roughly, not the
other way around. After Trump equivocated about white supremacist and neo-Nazi
protesters in Charlottesville, so many CEOs quit his American Manufacturing
Council that he was forced to disband it. After the January 6 Capitol
insurrection, more
than 50 corporations said they
would suspend or end political contributions to the eight Republican senators
and 139 House members who objected to one or more certified electoral ballots.

These corporations weren’t
“hijacking our country from outside the constitutional order.” They were
registering anxiety about the increasingly reckless behavior of their natural
ally, the GOP.

It’s sometimes said that a
new strain of anti-corporate conservatism lies aborning within the Republican
Party, reflecting a shift of working-class white voters, and even some working-class
Black and Hispanic voters, from the Democrats to the GOP. The New Yorker’s
Nicholas Lemann calls
them “the Reversalists.” According
to Lemann, they favor “a new,
socially conservative and economically liberal strain of Republicanism.… Culturally, Reversalists present themselves as champions of provincialism,
faith, and work, but they aim to promote these things through unusually
interventionist (at least for Republicans, and for centrist Democrats since the
nineties) economic policies.” 

But Reversalism hasn’t found
much purchase in elective politics, and I doubt it ever will. (Marco Rubio has
Reversalist sympathies, but Rubio is fickle and can’t be counted on to stick
with it when inevitable practical obstacles arise.) Implicit in McConnell’s
warning to the woke capitalists is that if they don’t throw their support
behind his party’s efforts to limit the franchise, then he just may go
Reversalist on them himself. But the prospect of McConnell ever giving big
business a hard time is less plausible even than the prospect of Rubio doing so.
If you
a look at the top contributors to
the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the 2020 cycle—among them
Charles Schwab Corporation, Fisher Investments, and FedEx—you will quickly understand
that it’s woke capitalists who pay the GOP’s bills.  

Stuart Stevens, a top
strategist to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign who parted ways with the
GOP over Trump’s nomination in 2016, says he thinks the only meaning to be
gleaned from McConnell’s April 5 threat is that he’s “still shell shocked” from
the January 6 insurrection, which was also the day McConnell passed from majority
leader to minority leader. McConnell has no leverage with corporate America; his
threat to punish it is empty. “Mitch McConnell,” Stevens explained, “needs them
more than they need Mitch McConnell.” Amen.

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