The New York Times thinks corporations now serve as the moral voice of America.
In the wake of the violence surrounding a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. this month, corporate leaders were quick to condemn racism, white nationalism and a host of other -isms that didn’t seem to be connected to their business.
The Times article noted that the strong reaction from America’s biggest companies to Charlottesville was not unprecedented in recent years. From gender-neutral bathrooms to President Trump’s travel ban, corporate America has taken a very progressive stance when these issues come before the public.
The long-form piece interviewed and quoted several business execs on why they feel it is important to speak out on social issues and be “moral leaders.”
“In this maelstrom, the most clarifying voice has been the voice of business,” Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation and a board member at PepsiCo, told the Times. “These C.E.O.s have taken the risk to speak truth to power.”
“Not every business decision is an economic one,” Starbucks chairman and outspoken liberal Howard Schultz said to NYT. “The reason people are speaking up is that we are fighting for what we love and believe in, and that is the idealism and the aspiration of America, the promise of America, the America that we all know and hold so true.”
The Times was very enthusiastic over this development in corporate culture, gushing over how these CEOs portrayed themselves as risk-takers for social justice. In NYT’s telling, these business giants didn’t care about their bottom line when it comes to standing up against racism and homophobia.
The Gray Lady wasn’t the only one in media to get puppy eyes over woke executives. ABC News talking head Matthew Dowd declared last week, “Not a single member of Trump’s Evangelical Council has resigned. We have learned corporate America has a greater moral compass. So so sad.”
Vox, however, took a more measured tone in stating that corporations are our new “public conscience.” While the left-wing online site was mostly positive about the development, Vox’s article — written by Tara Isabella Burton — at least expressed skepticism that “public morality is dictated by corporations with a financial interest in our sense of virtue.”
Burton argues that companies are not exactly dictating public opinion, “but rather reinforce the values its customers wish to ally themselves with.” According to the Vox writer, corporations are no longer pitching sex or wealth to its consumers — they’re selling virtue based on identity.
So if you want to indicate your level of wokeness, you’re going to buy from a company that openly endorses Black Lives Matter.
Burton also compares the modern function of corporations to churches. People buy stuff to reaffirm their values in a way that past generations went to mass to do so. In the absence of a majority of Americans firmly adhering to a culture like mainline Protestantism, they now turn to corporations to give them a sense of identity and community.
In effect, corporations are assigned the role of arbiters of public morality, a point my colleague Peter Hasson made before Vox and The Times wrote of this trend.
While Vox’s article makes some very insightful points on this trend of “woke consumerism,” it obscures a few important points.
While The Times and Vox both mention Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A as conservative companies wearing their values on their sleeve, pretty much every other corporation is overwhelmingly progressive. Unlike religions where there is at least a choice, pretty much every company you buy from donates to left-wing causes and cultivates a progressive image.
Roughly half of the country’s citizens don’t share these values, yet they’re forced to endorse them by the left-wing nature of corporate America. It’s hard to say all Americans now see malls as their new pews.
But for those on the Left, there is some truth to the woke consumerism described by Vox. Many bourgeois liberals demand their companies cater to their values and will punish those who do not. That’s why it appears that liberals are more interested in finding identity and community within the products they buy. They like that Apple and Starbucks are woke on social issues, and by purchasing their company products, the liberal consumer signals who he is as a person.
Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to just purchase goods without giving much thought to the politics of it all.
This explains why you see several popular boycotts of companies that go astray of left-wing orthodoxy, but few of the companies that shove progressivism down their consumers’ throats.
Sure, a few conservatives on Twitter may call for a boycott of Starbucks every time they launch a social justice initiative, but that is nowhere near the same scale as liberal activists getting hundreds of corporations to pull their advertising from Breitbart.
Rather than acting as leaders of public morality, corporations are often bullied into their stances.
They know they must de-platform “hate sites,” donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center, highlight diversity in their advertising, and issue statements full of platitudes on equality and tolerance in order to stay in the good graces of social justice warriors.
The actions of corporations only reinforce the status of leftists as the arbiters of public morality. They can spread leftism to Companies take their cues from journalists and activists, and they impose those values on the rest of society.
CEOs aren’t quite the new clergy, but they do let Americans know what is “good” and “moral” through sponsorship of culture, general advertising and public statements. But those values are first set with the calls those CEOs receive from left-wing activists.
It seems like bad business for corporations to routinely imply millions of Americans are terrible people, but it’s not much of a risk if they know conservatives won’t punish them at the cash register.
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