Years of leftist activism and effort to influence the corporate world, and constant and sustained narrative of identity politics from the academic and entertainment worlds have produced influential corporations willing to aggressively advance leftist agendas in mainstream American life. This was the conclusion of the first of two panel discussions held by the Claremont Institute on May 18 concerning the far left orientation and activism of large American corporations today, and was reviewed in an earlier article. A second panel discussed what conservatives and others concerned for American freedom can do in response.
Andrew Pudzer, attorney, political commentator, and formerly CEO of CKE Restaurants said that large corporations have “abdicated their responsibility to preserve the freedom of the marketplace” because they have been intimidated by the woke. But they are “feeding the crocodile, hoping that it will eat them last.”
Pudzer said that to understand the problem with the way corporations are behaving, one must look at the purpose of corporations. They were established in law in order to accumulate capital but limit liability to the capitalists. A single proprietor or partnership is personally liable for the expenses of the business, and is personally the target of any lawsuits. The liability held by a corporation is borne by the corporation, not its stockholders. This encourages people to invest. The practical effect for society is that money is being put to work, and business activity is generated. However, the Left’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria for investing directs capital to purposes other than the business pursuit of profits. This “strikes at the heart of our capitalist system,” because it “reduces the focus on profit, and in doing so reduces the incentive to invest,” with the result of “fewer jobs, and lower paying jobs.”
Public opposition to woke doctrine and the penalization of dissent from woke ideas and policies does seem to have grown, Pudzer said. Coca Cola’s opposition to the Georgia election integrity law led to 37% of the public indicating that they were less likely to buy Coke products. Two weeks after that announcement, the legal counsel responsible for the company’s diversity training – and likely its opposition to the election integrity law – resigned. Coke further said it was “backing off” its diversity program.
Another factor in CEO decision making with respect to woke ideology is the attitude of employees. Dissatisfied employees may leave for a competitor, or insist on woke policies, as was the case with Mozilla, mentioned in the previous panel. More generally, companies must pay attention to everyone in their supply chain, doing what is necessary to get “preferential treatment.” This is another avenue for woke influence.
One response of conservative investors to woke capital has been to develop an anti-woke strategy for investing. The Left’s ESG criteria, noted above, direct investment to companies implementing or favoring the agendas of the Left. Pudzer described two exchange traded funds (ETFs), one directed to companies not hostile to the gun ownership rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment, the other to companies at least neutral on pro-life issues. These are now used by conservative investors. Non-ESG investing also makes sense, since non-ESG companies are focused on profits, instead of causes. Such investing, if it grows, may offer CEOs an alternative to “feeding the crocodile,” hoping to be the last eaten.
Pudzer said that while there are businesses that serve an overwhelmingly leftist clientele, the “vast majority” of companies can indeed be influenced by a negative public and investor response to woke actions and policies.
Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and prominent critic of identity politics, believes that common conservative responses to woke capital often are not helpful. He identified six techniques that would be improvements in fighting the influence of leftist ideologies in society. These include:
1) Avoid lamentation and abstraction. Lamentation may be only natural for conservatives in the current circumstances, but it does not move decision makers or the public against the reality of woke ideologies. Nor does high level analysis of what has happened. Instead, discussion and rhetoric should try to move toward “a tone of inspiration and a tendency toward action.”
2) Fight policies, not people. Fighting people can generate much emotion, but he believes that it “at best, is unproductive, and probably likely counterproductive.” Attack their ideas instead, providing political leaders with “a cudgel” to attack the other side. But don’t go into an academic argument about ideas. “Don’t win the debate, win the fight.”
3) “Tell stories that move people, this is the most important thing.” Critical Race Theory teaches people to hate themselves. Don’t so much explain what CRT is, as what its practical effects are (e.g., teaching children to deconstruct their racial and sexual identities and “rank themselves as oppressors and oppressed”).
4) “Don’t point out hypocrisy,” instead, “change power structures.” Rufo said that what hypocrisy discloses is that people with decision making authority have power “and you can’t do anything about it.” Denouncing hypocrisy is really a kind of lamentation, which may elicit sympathy, but not so much action or change in policy.
5) “Make bad actors pay a price,” as happened with Coca Cola. This can be done through public relations, media, legislatures, etc.
6) “Attack, attack, attack,” and “see what happens.” This will be more effective than abstract analysis and debate.
Rufo said he focused on leftist indoctrination in the government. Many people from a wide variety of government agencies reached out to him with stories of the extreme and abusive indoctrination in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training and CRT. He collected and disseminated these stories through social media, conservative news media, and other ways of disseminating information that were available. This ultimately culminated in President Trump banning CRT training in government. (It has since been reinstated by the Biden Administration). But the controversy has heightened awareness in the country of the problem of DEI and CRT. He believes this is “a national fight that conservatives are winning.” He said that recent polling shows that a large majority of Americans oppose CRT. Also, there are “fourteen state legislatures” that “have introduced bills to ban Critical Race Theory from their state agencies.” In addition every conservative “governor or senator with Presidential ambitions” has gone on the record to denounce CRT.
Key to this advance against CRT was figuring out how to package a story and “leverage this information and then connect with all these people who are desperate for good information to act on.” People are then moved, for instance, to press school administrators not to give instruction that will cause students to hate their classmates, or “fundamentally change the historical understanding of the United States.”
These developments may move CEOs to act against CRT, but it is also important, Rufo said, to “discredit, dismantle, and displace” the internal diversity apparatus that promotes critical theory in corporations. Controversies about critical theory at institutions can “explode, and [then] implode,” ending at least the immediate threat. A major problem with critical theory in public and private institutions is that “nobody has fought back on this stuff, nobody.”
Rufo is encouraged that after a decade of little pushback in many institutions, people are now speaking out, willing to be fired if necessary not to comply with the requirements of critical theory. He said that conservatives and others opposed to critical theory can act from a position of intellectual and practical strength to turn the tide in battles that should be engaged. Although it does require courage, he finds people “at the grassroots level” in organizations affected by CRT or DEI “absolutely fired up.” Surprisingly, Rufo said that by “focusing on substance,” he has not been demonized. He also believes that corporations are among the institutions which it is easiest to change. They can act from their need to please the public, and perhaps take action they “wanted to do anyway, but couldn’t because of social pressure.” This is in contrast to the “permanent bureaucracy” one finds in nonprofit institutions (such as government agencies and academia).
Michael Anton, formerly a member of the National Security Council in the Trump Administration, now a Senior Fellow at the Claremont Institute and Lecture and Research Fellow at Hillsdale College in Washington, D.C., spoke next. He believes that corporations that are consistently and fully woke will collapse and should be allowed to collapse. Often a small group of stockholders will apply strong pressure to get what they want, and everyone else simply goes along or is afraid to fight back. Commonly conservatives are less intent on what they want from corporations than the Left is. Executives at woke corporations are also more likely to be concerned with what the news media and the academy think of them than what conservative activists think. This is why the Left is so much more successful.
Anton proposed that in fighting woke capitalism, activists should:
1) Tell the truth,
2) Apply shareholder pressure,
3) Boycott woke businesses (conservatives tend not to boycott, conservatives “don’t care as much, the Left cares more”),
4) Use state power (conservatives are reluctant to do this against business, but historically, Americans have used state power “to bust trusts that had accumulated too much authority over the economy and society”),
5) Build parallel non-woke institutions (this will become a necessity as companies become more woke, although a hostile government and existing oligopolies will try to block it),
6) Wait for wokeness to go away (companies will eventually overcome woke rationalizations, or collapse). Companies may be willing to sacrifice some profit for wokeness, but they must turn a profit, and will learn over time that wokeness is bad for business, and
7 ) “Accelerate the collapse.” Point to woker policies to force a company to confront the unsustainability of policies not oriented to business success.
Anton said, however, that things will have to get worse before they get better.
Questioners observed that the activism of the Left in business and the professions is at least four decades old, the Left’s financial resources are greater than those of the Right (“our millionaires against their billionaires”), giving rise to the question of “where do you start to hit?” The general response was that a woke business needs to see the prospect of an unsustainable loss to change its direction. Achieving this awareness by businesses seemed to be the central recommendation offered by the speakers.
J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, offered the final observations and exhortation of the conference. His remarks will be reviewed in a final article.
(Read part 3.)