With more corporations making public displays of support for democracy amid ongoing GOP assaults on voting rights, it’s easy to mock them for “wokeness,” or to discern deeply cynical motives at play.

After all, these moves are no doubt partly about their public images, and displays of social liberalism theoretically can defuse progressive advances that might have important distributive or regulatory consequences that would advance the public good.

But despite these obvious truisms, it has value when corporations stand up for democracy, even if it can seem superficial. In short, we need more voices standing up for democratic values right now, rather than fewer.

The Post reports on the latest machinations on this front:

More than 100 chief executives and corporate leaders gathered online Saturday to discuss taking new action to combat the controversial state voting bills being considered across the country, including the one recently signed into law in Georgia.
Executives from major airlines, retailers and manufacturers — plus at least one NFL owner — talked about potential ways to show they opposed the legislation, including by halting donations to politicians who support the bills and even delaying investments in states that pass the restrictive measures, according to four people who were on the call, including one of the organizers, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale management professor.
While no final steps were agreed upon, the meeting represents an aggressive dialing up of corporate America’s stand against controversial voting measures nationwide, a sign that their opposition to the laws didn’t end with the fight against the Georgia legislation passed in March.

To understand why this has potential value, read this piece by political scientist Julia Azari, which explains that certain types of democratic conduct are valuable because they further the democratic values that underpin them.

That includes, Azari notes, everything from affirming the legitimacy of the opposition to signal respect for opponents’ political aspirations, to voicing support for the idea that expanded participation should be seen as desirable, to conceding legitimate electoral defeat for the purpose of buoying long-term trust in our institutions.

All of these are under attack right now with former president Donald Trump and his various propagandists continuing to argue that the election was stolen, as Trump reportedly did to Republicans over the weekend.

The result, Azari argues, is that “Trumpism and its challenges to democratic values are lingering in the political system.” And in the face of these threats, we need to “empower forces that safeguard, rather than undermine, democratic values.”

This underscores, I think, what is so reprehensible about the ubiquitous GOP claim that efforts to restrict voting all over the country are designed to defend “election integrity,” and the related claim that this is necessary to restore voter “confidence” in our elections.

What’s so galling is the resolute refusal by many Republicans to tell their voters the truth, that the 2020 election was a civic triumph amid extraordinarily challenging conditions, and that voters have absolutely solid grounds to have confidence in both November’s outcome and in future elections.

That is what actual respect for democratic values — indeed, for election integrity — would look like. Instead, Republicans are displaying a very deep contempt for our system and for the opposition’s voters, widely telling the fiction that the system needs to be defended against the opposition’s future corruption of it, to justify placing additional hurdles in the way of their participation.

In a sense, all these corporate statements of opposition to these GOP voting laws really voice protest against that contemptuous denigration of millions of Democratic-aligned voters (particularly African Americans) and voice affirmation of the legitimacy of the system.

This has been building for a while, and it represents not just cynical top-down corporate positioning, but a response to pressure from below. Corporations have been pushed by escalating cultural conflicts around race and democracy, as well as employee agitation and shifting demographic realities of customer bases, to get more vocal. Indeed, even if corporations largely want to be seen on the right side of this fight, that’s a good sign of where things are going.

Making the GOP display even worse, you have people such as Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) insisting these corporate statements represent nothing but a plot by a “woke” elite corporate cabal to punish virtuous conservatives like himself for piously standing up for “election integrity.”

Here again, we’re seeing pure contempt poured on movements driven by legitimate pro-democratic aspirations, to support still more anti-democratic conduct, in a civically poisonous spirit of extraordinary bad faith.

Given all that, we should want corporations, however tentatively, to vocally defend democracy. None of this means corporations can’t harm democracy in other ways (with huge campaign expenditures or lobbying efforts to unduly shape legislation in their interests), or that we shouldn’t push hard on other fronts that will have real distributive consequences (like raising corporate taxes to fund needed public expenditures).

But in a fraught atmosphere such as this, we want more voices standing in defense of democratic values. Not fewer.

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