It’s undeniable at this point that American corporations have embraced left-wing “woke” ideology. They largely do this under the guise of adhering to ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) standards, but often go even further by explicitly promoting left-wing ideology in their product lines and advertising, contributing to controversial left-wing causes like Black Lives Matter and Planned Parenthood, and threatening to withdraw business if state legislators dare to pass bills they deem too conservative.
Many who support corporate politicking say this is the free market at work, but that’s not really accurate. ESG policies certainly aren’t popular among consumers. Most Americans don’t want to see energy prices go up domestically so the U.S. can continue to subsidize China’s carbon emissions. They don’t support late-term abortion or sex changes for kids. They’re not enamored with diversity quotas—in fact, they find affirmative action to be abhorrent.
It’s hard to imagine that these same consumers would be inspired to give money to companies that go out of their way to emphasize their support for unpopular ideas. While some companies might lean into left-wing politics as a niche marketing strategy—Ben & Jerry’s comes to mind—in most circumstances it’s not ideal to alienate sizable portions of your customer base. And at least recently, as some of these companies have made the mistake of “going woke,” traditional market forces have negatively impacted the companies’ bottom lines.
Much has been written about the collapse of Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light brand after conservatives decided to boycott the beer when it brought on controversial transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney in an online advertisement. But other corporations have felt similar pain in recent months. Target came under fire recently due to its array of “Pride Month” LGBTQ-themed products that appeared to be targeted towards children. When conservatives launched a boycott in May, Target’s stock price quickly cratered 20 percent—and it still has not recovered. At the same time, the valuations of competitors like Walmart have surged. (Anheuser-Busch’s competitor Molson Coors experienced a similar boost.)
Looks like the Target boycott is still having an impact. $TGT dropped off 20% in May and hasn't recovered — and today the stock looks to be testing a three-year low.
— Jon Schweppe (@JonSchweppe) August 15, 2023
Disney has also dealt with backlash for its LGBTQ activism. In March 2022, conservative activist Chris Rufo released footage from an all-hands video conference where various Disney executives committed to advancing all aspects of the LGBTQ agenda. Notably, corporate president Karey Burke expressed support for having “many, many, many LGBTQIA characters in our stories” and promised to ensure that at least 50 percent of the characters were “sexual and racial minorities.” The executives also committed to going to war against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for signing the Parental Rights in Education Act.
This didn’t play very well in the traditional market. Last year turned out to be a disaster for Disney shareholders: the company’s stock lost nearly 45 percent of its value. Moreover, recent attempts to inject left-wing ideology into Disney film franchises have ended poorly: Lightyear, Indiana Jones, and The Little Mermaid all bombed at the box office, with the live-action Snow White remake lining up as the next bust candidate.
So why do corporations go “woke?” What is this really about? Why are companies publicly embracing radical left-wing politics when it is so obviously unpopular (and potentially dangerous) to do so?
It’s possible these corporations really are acting in their rational self-interest—pursuing a path they believe is best suited for success—but it is certainly not being driven by what consumers want. Rather, they are seeking to placate a highly motivated, vindictive elite class that likely poses a greater threat to their long-term stability than the short-term frustrations of the consumer.
According to one study, nearly 70 percent of America’s CEOs affiliate themselves with the Republican Party. But because our education system almost exclusively produces loud, angry left-wing zealots, these CEOs have no choice but to surround themselves with these kinds of people—both in the C-Suite and throughout their companies. Failure to please these ideologues would pose an existential threat not only to the well-being of the corporation, but also to the CEO’s livelihood. And should the CEO manage to convince staff to reject (or at least not participate in) left-wing ideology, wealthy shareholders (i.e. BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street) can weaponize their immense power to set him or her straight. It’s happened before, and it will certainly happen again.
In other words, this is part ideology, part price of admittance to an elite club, and part protection racket—doing everything one can to avoid upsetting the mob. If BlackRock CEO Larry Fink tells you to do X, Y, and Z to improve your rating with the Human Rights Campaign, you had better do it, or else. A decline in sales is far easier to overcome than a decline in reputation among the rich and powerful.
And let’s not forget the ever-important relationship between so many of these corporations and the government. With Joe Biden in the White House and Democrats running the Senate, you had better believe corporations are looking to advertise their progressive bona fides. Step out of line, and you risk losing your subsidies and your contracts. Show your pride, Raytheon! Save the Earth, Exxon-Mobil!
But in the end, the claim that companies are taking any of these stances due to “market forces” does not hold water. In truth, they aren’t conforming to consumer preferences; they are conforming to elite culture. And sadly, despite the occasional effective boycott, it’s the rest of us who are all too often stuck bearing the consequences.