Two earlier articles reviewed panel discussions at a conference sponsored by the Claremont Institute concerning the acute problem of large corporations supporting the far left in American politics and society. J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, was the final speaker at the conference, and addressed what conservatism should focus on in contemporary American society.
Vance said that conservatism today should focus not on “first principles, but on the lives affected by those principles.” It should be about “the right of every American to live a good life in a country they call their own, and to raise their family in dignity on a single, middle class job.” He said that this is “a simple vision” to “work hard” on a job in “this country that is your own, built by your grandparents and parents, that will be inherited by your children.” This means that we are to “respect our history … so that people are anchored in the tradition” of their communities and country. We must be able to communicate our heritage, our beliefs and values, to our children. We must be able to speak openly, which is why censorship is such a threat. It is also important not to become involved in foreign wars that have no relation to national interest “bleeding our country” of its most valuable resource, namely “young men and women” who will be called on to fight those wars.
Vance believes that “the biggest obstacle” to achieving this goal is woke capital. Along with this – and Vance said many conservatives are not fully aware of this – “we have lost nearly every institution in this country that actually matters.” This includes academic institutions, the news media (both long lost), and now the government and the corporate world. He observed that big business is supporting the far left financially, despite the fact of the enormous loss of property caused by the summer Black Lives Matter riots. The Minneapolis riots destroyed $13 billion in property. These companies are “more invested” in woke ideology than in “traditional American principles.” However, it is also true that large corporations most committed to woke agendas in fact are benefitting from the attack on private property. In particular, it is small business that is hurt by rioting. Vance gave the example of Jeff Bezos and Amazon, a major contributor to BLM. It is a giant competitor for local retailers. Rather than bearing the brunt of the attack on capital, woke corporations are benefitting from it.
Conservatives must realize that their objectives and those of the working class and rural areas may align against big business. Vance gave the example of abortion restrictions. These may indeed be “bad for business,” because they reduce the female labor that would otherwise be available. But they protect innocent human life, and also the family based life that is crucial to traditional American society.
One very important factor, Vance said, “is the rise of the digital over the real economy.” The more digital a company is, the more woke it is likely to be. Globalization is a second factor. Vance quoted a banker who, when challenged about the loss of American jobs his bank was causing, said that his shareholders, investors, clients and customers were international, and he had no particular concern for America. Those companies that are more invested in America in the persons they employ, in their customers, their shareholders, and the production and supply of material goods, are much less likely to be woke. Finally, Vance said that many large nonprofits are “effectively social justice hedge funds.” He observed the Ford Foundation as a case in point, supporting leftist causes across the country and the BLM movement that damaged American cities. These organizations are tax exempt; they pay no taxes on the sale of their property, for instance. In this way the Left has been enriched. Also, large universities are tax exempt, and finance destructive ideologies across the country.
Vance said that if an organization is opposed to the American nation state, and the “values and virtues” that lie at the core of American civilization, the conservative movement should be about reducing its power, and if necessary, destroying it. Referring to Harvard University, he said that “$120 billion in corporate and university endowments is ammunition for our enemies.” Conservatives should have the objective of denying this ammunition to the Left, and this objective should guide conservative politics. Unless this is done, unless conservatives “can go after the pocketbook” of the Left, they are “accepting defeat.” It was a public policy decision to give these leftist organizations the enormous financial advantage that they have; another public policy decision can and should change it.
We also “need to orient our entire economy toward the real economy and not the digital economy.” He said “it is frightening how much the digital economy dominates” in our country. Digital corporations “can pretend” that much of their assets are located overseas, and thus not subject to taxes in America. Globalization was a policy to get cheaper labor, and it has devastated American workers. Globalized organizations should be made to bear a greater part of the tax burden, Vance said.
Another important objective to pursue is to “go after the human resource bureaucracy.” People who “are teaching racism in American public schools” should be stopped. Those telling people they need to “deconstruct” their racial identity should be sued for creating “a hostile work environment.” Critical theory should be used against itself.
Vance’s final exhortation to conservatives was to take action as well as offer words. Americans still have the Constitution and an elected government, “which gives us the power to fight back against woke capital.” He said it’s “not enough to tell Google ‘you’re being bad’” in a Congressional committee hearing. They must be punished for being bad. We must not be in the fight to lose, but to win, he said.
Vance said that in talking to conservatives, he hears the claim that we should “not use the means of the Left.” Yet “if our enemies are using guns and bazookas, we better fight back with more than wet noodles.” He said that whether Americans know it or not, they “depend on the institutions of the conservative movement to accomplish their objectives, to serve their interests,” to ensure that people can survive “on a decent middle class wage.” This should be the conservative vision.
He referred to Abraham Lincoln’s Fiery Trial speech: “The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.” While the current trial of America may not be as intense as the Civil War, it remains a fiery trial, which will have a profound impact on the future of America. Vance paraphrased Lincoln: “we have the power in this country, we have the power in this constitutional republic, and we bear the responsibility to use it to save this country.”