Texas’s pro-life bill has once again put conservatives at odds with big business. Do we have the will and the way to stand our ground?
Oh, here we go. A duly elected state legislature has enacted a law expressing the popular will, and the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to stop the measure being implemented. So, naturally, several large corporations have declared war on the state and its democracy, with the New York Times goading more firms to join the fray. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the timid bulk of the GOP to stand up to this managerial bullying.
I’m referring, of course, to the corporate revolt against Texas’s new pro-life law, Senate Bill 8, proscribing most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The prospect of its implementation drew the ire of several local tech companies, including Austin-based Bumble and Dallas-based Match. “Bumble is woman-founded and women-led, and from day one we’ve stood up for the most vulnerable,” said Bumble in an Instagram statement vowing to fight S.B. 8 (the vulnerability of the preborn human being threatened by scissors and suction tubes was lost on a firm that facilitates random hookups).
Then Silicon Valley weighed in. Ride-sharing apps Lyft and Uber promised to cover the legal expenses of drivers facing prosecution for “getting people where they need to go—especially women exercising their right to choose,” as Lyft’s CEO put it on Twitter. Yelp boss Jeremy Stoppelman offered similar babble: “The effective ban on abortions in Texas not only infringes on women’s rights to reproductive health care, but it puts their health and safety at greater risk.”
But the corporate outrage apparently wasn’t enough for the Times, which ran a story on Saturday lamenting that too many other mega-firms have kept mum. “When Texas lawmakers advanced a restrictive voting rights bill this year,” wrote reporter David Gelles, “American Airlines and Dell Technologies, two of the state’s biggest employers, were early and vocal critics of the effort. But this week . . . both companies declined to comment on the [abortion] measure.”
The silence, in the Grey Lady’s view, is especially condemnable, coming from firms that otherwise support liberal causes. “Among those that would not say something were McDonald’s, a sponsor of International Women’s Day; PwC, a major supporter of diversity and inclusion efforts; and Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, which led a corporate backlash last year against a restrictive voting bill in Georgia, where they have their headquarters.”
This sort of pressure works. Your average corporate flack and his boss likely share the Times’s view of S.B. 8, and even if they don’t, they live in utter terror of what the Times has to say about their firm. In turn, the pressure exerted by corporate America on other red states can unduly influence their politics: Lawmakers in states less wealthy and economically dynamic than Texas, for example, might think twice before enacting similar legislation (or laws protecting kids from mutilating trans ideology) if the Lone Star State comes under heavy economic fire. In this way, corporate interference damages the one-man-one-vote principle; a few Silicon Valley oligarchs block the democratic influence of millions.
Does the wider GOP care? Do party leaders see how, left unchecked, C-suite wokesters will neuter the one realm of national power that still remains broadly in the conservative column, namely state legislatures and governors’ mansions? Some do. “When American citizens work to protect innocent American lives, the left and the companies threaten and try to reverse the democratic process,” Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri told me.
But Hawley is the honorable exception. Figures like Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem have made it clear that they subscribe to the most brain-addled variety of pro-corporate libertarianism. If large employers in their respective states revile a piece of cultural legislation, that’s the end of the discussion. The likes of Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are reliable servants of corporate America, including Big Tech.
MAGA World has better instincts on these questions, but those instincts finally don’t amount to a concrete policy vision aimed at taming what used to be called “the money power” in this country. Overweening corporate power can only be confronted by a sufficiently potent countervailing power: public power. But public power has always sat uneasily with the Jacksonian streak in American national life, of which MAGA is only the latest expression.
It’s a perennial weakness of American populism going back to Jackson himself and his failure to tame the financial forces that menaced smallholders. As Richard Hofstadter reminds us in his magisterial The American Political Tradition (1948), “the Jacksonians were caught between their hostility” to the Eastern money power, as embodied in the national bank, “and their unwillingness to supplant it with adequate federal control of credit. The popular hatred of privilege and the dominant laissez-faire ideology made an unhappy combination.” Much the same could be said for MAGA’s righteous rage against Silicon Valley and other bastions of corporate power: MAGA-ites know the bitter taste of Big Tech censorship, but they did little to master the social media giants while they had the federal reins.
We shouldn’t lose hope, however. The Texas battle has the potential to rally the right against the woke overclass. Life itself is at stake, after all: the life of the preborn, the life of a democracy.