Corporate surrender to mainstream progressive America puts Trump, GOP authoritarianism in relief
Bowing to criticism from former “Will and Grace” star Debra Messing and others, retail giant Walmart asked Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith to return the campaign donation it made in support of her candidacy against Democratic challenger Mike Espy.
Notorious for its low wages and overall low labor standards and abuse of workers, the corporate behemoth would never be mistaken for a bellwether of progressive politics, and its behavior in this instance shouldn’t be read as such. Indeed, it was on November 2 that Hyde-Smith, speaking in Tupelo, praised a local supporter, proclaiming, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be in the front row.” Walmart did not make its request until November 20, following their corporate brethren Union Pacific and Boston Scientific, who asked for their donations back from the Hyde-Smith campaign on Monday.
These corporations needed eighteen days to determine that allying with a candidate whose comments more than implicitly looked smilingly upon a tradition that celebrated, indeed made a pastime out of, lynching African Americans by the thousands did not really, to borrow words from Walmart’s statement, “reflect the values of [their] company and associates.”
I can only try to imagine the drama of the torturous moral and humanitarian deliberations playing out in these corporate boardrooms for eighteen days: “Where does our company stand? Do we endorse the American traditions of racism and violence against people of color, or an America of genuine equality for all?”
I do not mean to be pointing out the obvious by calling out corporate America for not really supporting progressive politics or the basic values of equality for peoples of all races and genders in America.
Rather, I want to underscore a ray of political and moral hope that these corporations, though clearly not supporting anti-racism or even denouncing racism with any vigor or enthusiasm, nonetheless surrendered to what they believed constitutes a substantial public opinion.
While a company like Chick-Fil-A still unapologetically supports anti-LGBTQ organizations and admittedly attracted the business of an arguably still largely homophobic America, that these companies withdrew their support from Hyde-Smith, when their eighteen days of careful deliberation reveals a paucity of real alignment with anti-racist politics, serves as a measure of the extent to which the proverbial moral arc of mainstream America’s political universe may just in fact be bending toward justice.
For all that seems awry and that provokes despair in a political culture in which Trump and his Republican hooligans ceaselessly endorse and provoke racism, sexism, and the violence, often deadly we see, that goes with them, the metric of corporate behavior, always playing to its market share, suggests that a humane progressivism may indeed be capturing a lion’s share of the American political marketplace.
And this tendency, of course, runs counter to GOP politics. Stacey Abrams has refused to concede the gubernatorial election in Georgia to Brian Kemp because of the racist voter suppression he engaged in as Secretary of State overseeing the election and voter registration process. And we saw the Republicans engage in racially targeted voter suppression across the nation in the recent mid-term elections, particularly in Florida, North Dakota, and Florida. And, of course, the frothy racist anti-immigrant politics and rhetoric of Trump and the GOP continue unabated.
I don’t have time to catalog the long list of Republican-backed racist policies and tactics. I simply want to make the point that corporate distancing from these policies and practices, when called out, highlights the extent to which corporations do not perceive the intensely racist and sexist politics of the GOP as appealing to the majority of citizens they want to capture as consumers.
We see this same dynamic when it comes to issues of sexual harassment and violence and the politics of the #MeToo Movement.
On November 8, Google announced that its employees would be able to take the company to court to pursue sexual harassment claims, whereas previously company policies, written into employee contracts, required such matters be dealt with through private arbitration, giving employees far fewer rights and leverage in the process for which typically the companies themselves set the guidelines. On November 9, Facebook followed suit, and Airbnb and eBay have since indicated they would move in the same direction.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently moved to relax the Title IX requirements for the way university’s handled sexual assault and harassment on their campuses and among their students, whether on or off campus. The new rules will surely result in less reporting, as under DeVos’ re-written guidelines, victims must be subject to cross-examination, no doubt prohibiting victims from subjecting themselves to a process that historically has been shaming, humiliating, and victim-blaming. Moreover, universities must report only incidents that happen on their campuses, meaning universities no longer have a responsibility to maintain jurisdiction over fraternities and other places where sexual violence against students is known frequently to take place, meaning the victims have no recourse to the university or expectation of the services universities are required to provide for victims.
There’s more here to discuss and lament, but what I want to underscore, again, is this separation of a Republican Party imposing on Americans policies the majority finds detestable and a corporate America that finds itself needing to surrender to the majority to appeal to these citizens as consumers.
This split reveals the extent to which Trump and the Republican party have eschewed any concern for democracy, for what the people want, in favor of a brute authoritarianism that simply wants to push through its ideological agenda at any cost. We saw this with the confirmation process of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Despite his approval ratings being underwater with the American People, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed ahead, unconcerned with the truth of the allegations against Kavanaugh because he and his party are unconcerned with women and their rights. He did his best to avert and curtail any investigation seeking the truth. It didn’t matter if Kavanaugh had brutalized women. They don’t count.
To corporations in need of clients and consumers, people of color and women do count; and businesses do have an interest in recognizing and conceding to mainstream values and opinions.
And herein lies the hope — not in Google, Facebook, Walmart, or any of these massive profit-generating entities, but in the people, or a growing majority of people who are embracing a progressive politics and who must be represented.