“Woke capitalism” has triggered great alarm on the right. I have heard it described, with no sense of irony, as the greatest threat facing Western society.
Conservatives aren’t just angry that corporate America seems to be siding against them in disputes such as whether football players should kneel for the national anthem; they worry about a future in which their views are censored by Big Tech, declared anathema by employers, targeted for angry mobbings by the media. And so they feel forced to support politicians such as Trump who promise to take the fight to their enemies.
I would question the effectiveness of this strategy, since, if anything, Trump seems to have emboldened the culture warriors within corporate America. But I won’t try to argue that conservative fears are ungrounded. There really is an increasingly militant wing of the left that wants to use economic as well as political power to destroy their opponents, from Mozilla chief executive Brendan Eich (forced to step down for donating in support of California’s Proposition 8) to James Damore (a Google engineer fired for a memo he wrote about the company’s diversity policies) to the hapless NRA conventioneers who made the mistake of flying Delta. And as these examples suggest, the liquidationist wing seems to have a surprising amount of influence over corporate behavior.
But “surprising” doesn’t mean “large,” since it is surprising for them to have any influence at all. In fact, I suspect that what little power they had has already peaked.
Consider Google, which just issued a rather tart advisory about the freewheeling internal discussion boards where Damore’s infamous memo began its viral career. The company warns that “disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics” doesn’t build community, adding, “Our primary responsibility is to do the work we’ve each been hired to do, not to spend working time on debates about non-work topics.” This is a pretty stunning turnaround, given the company’s long history of supporting these kinds of discussions.
Yet there’s a reason companies have historically discouraged workers from spending much time arguing politics; when the argument is over, the anger often lingers. Google got away with it for so long because its core business, a virtual monopoly over Internet search, throws off so much money that it can afford to indulge worker desires for an activist workplace. Effectively, bringing your politics to the job site was a form of compensation for the woke workforce.
Only that market position isn’t quite as impregnable as it looked a few years ago. For reasons that have nothing to do with the political skew of the company’s workforce, governments are getting more and more interested in curbing the power of tech firms, and thus their revenue. Meanwhile, Google faces competitive pressure in its non-search markets, including from Amazon (whose founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, owns The Post). The company can’t necessarily afford the luxury of an internal message system that’s getting everyone riled up, without any commensurate increase in productivity — or worse, one that helps workers to organize to force the company out of potentially profitable lines of business.
Moreover, the wokest firms are extremely geographically concentrated along the coasts. Apple chief executive Tim Cook can rail against Indiana’s religious freedom law, but practically speaking, what can he do — close the state’s two Apple stores? The geographic concentration is what drives the woke warrior phenomenon, since it’s easiest to want to destroy people if you don’t know them. But it also dramatically limits its scope.
And that scope is already limited, because large public companies aren’t going to pursue their principles at the expense of any sizable self-interest. Note how many of the firms that are loudest in their denunciations of American political groups are quiet about the Chinese government, which is violently suppressing protest in Hong Kong and herding religious minorities into reeducation camps. I don’t say that this is admirable, but I do say that it is a fact.
So while I sympathize with conservatives who fear that woke capital is selling them out, I can’t agree that those fears justify selling the soul of conservatism to Trump. It’s true, woke capitalism will sell you out. The thing is, if you wait long enough — and not very long at that — it will sell out your opponents, too.