You don’t watch television? Just pay attention to the pop-up ads when you surf the Web. See the smiling faces — the sea of Black, Brown, tan and golden faces — that make it clear that corporate America knows that scenes of White families are no longer the only aspirational groupings that make customers want to open their wallets.
The GOP and corporate America have been engaged in two very interesting but very different branding exercises over the past decade. For years, these two campaigns allowed both sides to maintain their mutually beneficial arrangement. In recent days, however, the two branding campaigns have collided over the most basic question in our democracy: Who gets to vote and how? Which brand will emerge from this collision in better shape is already a foregone conclusion. But the reason may have less to do with right and wrong than profit and loss.
Under the old arrangement, corporate America would reliably deliver huge sums of money to GOP campaigns and causes, and Republicans would deliver lower taxes on income and capital gains in return. If big companies did not endorse everything the party stood for, they remained mostly silent in service of their bottom line.
But after a brief period of experimenting with big-tent politics during the first and second Bush presidencies, the Republican Party has lurched dramatically rightward since the election of Barack Obama. The GOP narrowed its goals to serve a largely White, largely evangelical and largely nonurban base that is hostile to immigration, science, foreign engagement and anything associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
At the same time, many big corporate firms have come to see themselves as allies of immigration, science and foreign engagement and have worked to signal their virtues through ads and statements of solidarity following the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd.
After Georgia lawmakers passed a law that disproportionately limits ballot access for people of color based on false claims of voter fraud, Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola at first tried to skirt the issue and then finally cried foul. Major League Baseball moved the summer All-Star Game out of Georgia in protest. And almost 200 companies — including HP, Salesforce and Under Armour — signed a statement that denounced similar efforts underway to limit ballot access in other states.
These steps hit the GOP where it must have caused some pain. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned corporate America to stay out of politics but quickly backtracked to clarify that he was “not talking about political contributions.” That was a reminder that Republicans who accuse corporations of trying to stay on the right side of the woke police fail to understand that there are much larger forces at work.
Part of what is going on here is that corporations are protecting their bottom lines as America steams toward the majority-minority tipping point sometime around 2047. The Census Bureau projects that the U.S. population will increase by about 24 percent by 2060; adults and their children who are not White will likely account for most of that growth. That multiculti future has already arrived for America’s youngest citizens; White children are now a minority of Americans under the age of 17.
Any company interested in cultivating the multihued, multiethnic, cross-marrying, immigrant consumer of the future would have to think hard about continuing to move in lockstep with a Republican Party that is determined to time-travel back to the 1950s, when white supremacy was thought to be permanent.
America’s real future is more colorful, more vibrant, more diverse than the continuing tableau of overwhelmingly White GOP conventions, fundraisers and leadership summits. But let us also admit that the recent spate of corporate activism does not signal a deeper commitment to liberal causes. Some of the CEOs who have spoken out against repressive voting schemes must do a better job of diversifying their own leadership teams and workforces.
This much is clear: The demographic reshuffling already underway will alter our culture, our politics and who has the reins of power. Much of the Republican agenda is fueled by a fear of this future. Corporations that want to embrace that future — and the wave of consumers it will bring — cannot continue to partner with a party that is only interested in representing the part of America it finds acceptable.