This latest turn in the Georgia voting wars is wretched in its own right. But it also helps clarify some larger national themes: the profound phoniness of many GOP screams about “cancel culture” and “woke” corporations, and the ugly nature of GOP culture-warmongering, which has grown all-consuming.
What happened is that the Georgia state House voted late Wednesday to rescind a tax break on jet fuel that is a lucrative benefit for Delta, after Delta condemned Georgia’s new voting law.
That measure, which GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed last week, bans third-party groups from sharing food and water with those in voting lines, places new restrictions on vote by mail, and curbs drop boxes and mobile voting units. Much of this appears aimed at African American voters.
Delta denounced the law, claiming it “could make it harder for many Georgians, particularly those in our Black and Brown communities, to exercise their right to vote,” and that it is “based on a lie” about voter fraud.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution picks up the story:
Kemp and other GOP leaders say they were caught off guard by the opposition, and the Georgia House retaliated by narrowly voting to end a lucrative tax break on jet fuel during the final, frenzied day of the legislative session.
The move fizzled in the Georgia Senate. But note this extraordinary quote from the GOP House leader, also courtesy of the AJC:
“They like our public policy when we’re doing things that benefit them,” said House Speaker David Ralston, adding: “You don’t feed a dog that bites your hand. You got to keep that in mind sometimes.”
That could not be clearer: If you bite us, we will stop feeding you. Translation: Republicans tried to rescind the tax break as direct retaliation for criticism of the law.
The point here is not to lament Delta’s plight. Delta will continue enjoying its tax break (which has traditionally been backed by lawmakers in both parties). And Delta’s opposition to the law came after voting rights activists accused it of not opposing the law forcefully enough.
Rather, what’s at issue is the conduct of GOP leaders. These ostensible public servants, who are supposed to make decisions like this in the public interest (a quaint notion), expressly employed their legislative power to punish a private company for criticizing their efforts to restrict the franchise and for defending the rights of fellow Georgia citizens.
Underscoring the point, the Georgia House GOP leader went before reporters and conspicuously declared he’d cracked open a can of Pepsi. This looked like retaliation against Coca Cola, which is also headquartered in Georgia, and also released a statement condemning the new law.
Corporate ‘wokeness’ has its place
It is easy to discern cynical motives when corporations offer public displays of “wokeness.” They can seem designed to distract progressive forces from pursuing measures that would have meaningful distributive or regulatory consequences for them.
But on race, corporate expressions of social liberalism have played an important historic role. As Samuel Hammond details, there is a long history of corporations recognizing profit potential in public displays of solidarity with marginalized groups — they bring in new customers. But, crucially, such moves actually do help move the culture in a salutary direction, because the “mainstreaming power of commercialization” helps extend “social recognition” to those groups.
Importantly, in some these cases, they have also sparked a backlash, often from White America. Something like this dynamic may be unfolding in Georgia, as Republicans seek to punish Delta and Coca Cola for condemning GOP efforts to suppress African American political participation.
Beyond all that, this episode neatly exposes how effortlessly conservative objections to “woke” corporations can slide into purely instrumental GOP power plays.
It’s sometimes said conservatives are understandably rebelling against liberal cultural power imposed via corporate “wokeness.” But when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sided with the unionization of workers at Amazon, he revealed this was only intended as punishment against Amazon for its supposed social liberalism, which he slammed as an affront to “working-class values,” declaring himself spokesman for a mythical working class that’s monolithically conservative.
And in this Georgia example, the retaliation against corporate social liberalism is actually designed to facilitate the active disempowerment of large numbers of people, to rig electoral outcomes in the GOP’s favor.
What’s more, for all the whining about “cancel culture,” here Republican leaders tried to punish private companies for expressing opinions critical of them. We’re seeing this elsewhere, as Republicans rage against businesses for exercising their right to decide whether to serve people who haven’t been vaccinated against the coronavirus and how to protect themselves against dangers posed by them.
This is meant to thrill conservative voters who are vaccine-skeptical and/or have adopted the Trumpist mythology that covid-19 was never a big deal. As David Frum writes, the culture war has grown so all-consuming that to appease various such “cultural blocs,” GOP politicians are “willing to sacrifice everything,” including fealty to the “freedom to operate a business.”
Something like this, too, is now playing out in Georgia. The GOP war on voting rights in Georgia has already been clarifying in all kinds of ways. But now what it’s revealing is getting a whole lot worse.
An earlier version of this article mistakenly featured a photograph of Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon at the state Capitol in Atlanta. The article has been updated.