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Affluent Christian Investor | December 3, 2023

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Big Tech, You’re Running Out Of Friends

Amazon Prime, IFA 2015 (CC BY 2.0)

Senator Marco Rubio is sending a warning to Amazon, and the company would be foolish to ignore it. In the pages of USA Today, Senator Rubio sided with Amazon workers attempting to unionize in Bessemer, Ala. “When the conflict is between working Americans,” wrote the senator from Florida, “and a company whose leadership has decided to wage culture war against working-class values, the choice is easy — I support the workers.” It may seem a small thing for a single senator to take a moral stand (that makes no promises of action) concerning a relatively minor dispute, but Rubio’s op-ed is deceptively revealing. It is just the latest example of a fundamental shift in the Republican Party’s attitude toward “big business,” away from the laissez-faire attitude conservatives have usually held and toward open hostility for woke capital’s most notorious propagators. And Big Tech businesses, Amazon being one of the worst offenders as of late, have no one to blame but themselves.

While the GOP increasingly flirts with anti-corporatism, the executives at Amazon do not seem terribly disturbed. Their focus remains pandering to their natural enemies, even as they alienate their natural allies. Amazon’s repeated public prostrations to the Left have been less than effective at reducing political pressure on the company. March 25 saw Democrats and Republicans in the House interrogating the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Alphabet. Along with other Big Tech stocks, Amazon underperformed the market broadly on the day of the hearing. While neither current Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos nor incoming CEO Andy Jassy were present at the hearing, they should still be worried: Despite all the left-wing pandering and censorship peddled by Big Tech, they have found no friends in the Democratic Party. Many of the Democrats participating in the interrogation evinced a belief that Big Tech is still, despite the last four years, insufficiently censorious. Each new demonstration of loyalty to the Left by Amazon is met with fury by conservatives, but no equivalent jubilation on the other side. Has there been an outcry of thanks from progressives for their public service in banning “transphobic” books?

Not in the least. Instead, Amazon’s accommodations have been rewarded with a growing bipartisan abhorrence for mega-cap tech companies. The Left opposes Amazon because it is a hugely successful multinational corporation led by a fantastically wealthy man, and they will continue to do so as long as they oppose corporate power and the rich — in other words, as long as the Left is the Left. But now the Right is growing to oppose Amazon because it is openly hostile to the cultural values held by everyone not on the left.

When Amazon removed Ryan T. Anderson’s book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement” from its catalogue, it alienated conservatives. When it removed a documentary about Clarence Thomas from its catalogue, it alienated conservatives. When it removed the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council from its “Smile” charity program, it alienated conservatives. And yet the Democratic Party has not softened its rhetoric in the least. One need only look at Thursday’s congressional hearing for proof.

Have we made the point, Bezos and Jassy? They will never accept you. The mob cannot be bought off. In the eyes of the radicals, no number of banned books or censored conservatives will atone Amazon of its original sin: being a corporation. The Left is no more fond of Amazon than it was when Ryan Anderson could still sell books on the platform. But all these tech giants have, or had, a natural defender in conservatism, a movement that has historically been oriented toward defending businesses (even the mega-caps) from the interventions of the state. Now they are losing their support, and there is little reason to believe that the next Republican president or Republican-controlled Congress will respond to years of censorship by doubling down on free markets. From Senators Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley to President Trump to Tucker Carlson, conservatives are increasingly showing an enthusiasm, if mostly in rhetoric, to forgo their party’s historical inclinations and use the whips and reins of government to curtail the Left’s intrusion into the boardroom.

While GOP messaging is shifting dramatically on the question of big business, Republicans in national politics will be close to powerless for around four years at a minimum when it comes to corporate policy. Until there is a Republican president and Republican Congress, the internal debates concerning what exactly should be done about woke capital are largely theoretical, and a political solution to the problem will be impossible. But Amazon’s shareholders do not have to wait for a national election to act, nor do the shareholders of any other company.

The left-wing pandering of corporate America has incensed the Republican Party to the point that many of its most prominent members are advocating retribution against corporations explicitly for their political activism. That is a threat, largely self-imposed, to Amazon’s bottom line, which means it is a threat to shareholders, a threat which shareholders would be foolish to ignore. A natural point investors should focus on is attempts to promote viewpoint diversity, such as the shareholder resolution proposed by the National Center for Public Policy Research and subsequently shot down by Amazon’s Board. Insisting on a broader range of political and social ideologies at the company could make a genuine difference in the way Amazon operates.

The conservative conflict with Amazon is not, or should not be, just another partisan squabble — it is a fundamental question about the role of tech giants. Are they tools for activists, utilized from time to time to make sure nobody can read books skeptical of administering hormone blockers to children? Or are they publicly traded companies, like any other, responsible first and foremost to their investors? Nobody is trying to make Amazon a “conservative corporation,” we would just prefer if the stewards of investor capital did not needlessly antagonize customers, investors, and potential regulators. That is not politicization of the boardroom — it is the exact opposite.

Ultimately, if Big Tech does not want to be fighting a war on two fronts, they need to stop the censorship. They need to promote ideological diversity at their companies. When conservative shareholders make requests, they should not be thoughtlessly dismissed. It might upset the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department, and surely some employees will complain on Slack channels, but that is better than the alternative: the consistent, careless alienation of the half of the country that would normally be on their side.

This is not going away by itself. For better or worse, there is a major shift under way in how Republicans think about the tech companies that hold their values in contempt. In addition to the prominent examples mentioned earlier, Florida governor Ron DeSantis (an early lead for the 2024 Republican nomination, according to prediction market PredictIt) introduced legislation in February that would impose fines on tech companies that deplatform candidates for public office. Amazon and other Big Tech companies are appeasing their perennial enemies, the Left, but getting nothing in return except Republican threats.

This situation is untenable. So long as Amazon behaves like a progressive nonprofit, it will be at best be held in serious suspicion by many Republicans. There is no reason to expect that to go away — unless Amazon stops antagonizing those who are traditionally insistent on letting businesses operate free of government intervention. Maybe the populist shift within the conservative movement will convince Big Tech to tone down the wokeness. Maybe someone at Amazon will realize that the Left is not the only threat, and that a massive company that seems to lack any conservative perspectives makes for an excellent punching bag for the new GOP. Or maybe the executives won’t listen to reason, but then at least we get to say, “I told you so.”

It is possible that the executives at Amazon and elsewhere are simply activists, promoting woke ideology out of genuine conviction. It is also possible that they are simply assessing risk, operating under the assumption that the Democrats are a greater threat to their independence and success than the Republicans. The former is a problem because that is not why corporations exist, and the latter is a problem because it has unambiguously failed. Whichever explanation is true does not particularly matter. The result is the same. Senator Rubio stated it outright in his op-ed: “The days of conservatives being taken for granted by the business community are over.”

This article originally appeared on National Review.


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