This is a difficult moment for conservatives. Not only was President Trump roundly defeated in November, Democrats also took control of the Senate. And now, conservatives seem to be under assault not from the stifling hand of government but from corporations, the very entities whose interests they’ve so tirelessly promoted for so long. Consider:

  • After repeatedly violating their terms of service for years, Trump was finally kicked off Twitter (permanently) and Facebook and Instagram (for now), not to mention YouTube, Snapchat and Twitch.
  • Amid the response to the insurrection at the Capitol, Amazon Web Services shut down its hosting of Parler, a social media site that was awash in hateful rhetoric and posts seeming to promote the kind of violence we saw there.
  • Mike Lindell, the My Pillow chief executive who has promoted conspiracy theories in arguing that Trump actually won the 2020 election, has confirmed that Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wayfair and other retailers will no longer sell his products.
  • After Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-Mo.) efforts to contest the results of the election, Simon & Schuster decided to cancel its contract for the book Hawley was supposed to write in advance of his presumed 2024 presidential bid.
  • Many large corporations have suspended campaign contributions to the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election results.

Capitalism can be awfully cruel, can’t it?

This puts conservatives in something of an awkward position. The private sector, as far as they were concerned, was supposed to be perfect in its wisdom and guaranteed to maximize individual liberty. That’s why we should trust them to manage, well, pretty much everything; it’s common to hear conservatives say that there’s almost nothing government does that couldn’t be done better by private companies.

Yet here they are, being victimized by big corporations. And after Republicans gave them that glorious tax cut and fought so hard to undermine regulations and destroy collective bargaining. The ingratitude!

So in trying to wrap their heads around this injustice, they search for familiar story lines. George Orwell’s “1984” — a story about an oppressive government that silenced free speech and thought with brutal violence — is being invoked again and again, apparently by people who didn’t read it.

So Donald Trump Jr. responds to his father’s Twitter ban by tweeting, “We are living Orwell’s 1984. Free-speech no longer exists in America.” Hawley, upon learning of Simon & Schuster’s decision, cries that “this could not be more Orwellian.”

Perhaps there was a deleted chapter of the book in which Winston Smith is forced to endure the suffering of having his book published by a second-tier conservative press and is then given the opportunity to complain about it in dozens of TV interviews. It sounds absolutely harrowing.

As nonsensical as they may be, these “1984” comparisons make sense to the right, where government has long been the enemy. That’s not to say there aren’t lots of reasons to be nervous about the accumulation of corporate power and its effects on public debate; it’s just that people such as Hawley seem to care only when they’re the ones directly affected.

If you asked them whether Kohl’s should be forced to stock My Pillows whether they want to or not, I assume they’d say no. And they were perfectly happy when the NFL effectively blacklisted Colin Kaepernick for respectfully kneeling during the national anthem. They just don’t want their side blacklisted.

The trouble with corporations is that if they have that freedom, sometimes they’ll use it in ways you like, and sometimes they’ll use it in ways you don’t. The companies distancing themselves from Republicans who in one way or another tried to subvert American democracy are showing their fear of bad publicity, and right now, being associated with Trump dead-enders looks like very bad publicity.

But there is a way conservatives can square the circle, to simultaneously explain both the oppression they’re getting from corporate America and the oppression they’ll soon be complaining is coming from the Biden administration. It’s the unifying theory of contemporary conservatism: We Are The Victims.

It wasn’t easy to pull off when they controlled the federal government, but they gave it their best shot, arguing that they were always on the run from oppressive “cancel culture,” campus liberals, the lamestream media and a society where just being Christian supposedly risked life and limb.

And now, with Democrats in charge in Washington? The oppression is coming. According to Sean Hannity, liberals want to have conservatives “put in reeducation camps” for deprogramming to rid them of their views, our own Cultural Revolution.

It brings to mind how back in 2009, Glenn Beck promoted and then retracted the idea that under Barack Obama, FEMA was setting up concentration camps for unruly lovers of liberty; perhaps one day Hannity, too, will admit that he went a little overboard.

But I doubt it. You won’t find many conservatives admitting that the Obama era was not actually the nightmare of Stalinist oppression they claimed, as opposed to just a time when the president made policy choices they disagreed with. Likewise, the Biden administration’s every move will soon be greeted with cries of “Tyranny!”

This is a comfortable place for conservatives: insisting that they are the victims, the oppressed and pursued, so full of courage and righteousness that their virtue cannot be denied and their endless rage is amply justified.

It’s almost enough to make them regret giving those all those corporate tax cuts — were it not for the fact that the whole thing is nothing more than playacting.

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