Guest Editorials, Opinion

Corporations are evolving with the times. Former GOP allies aren’t

Remember when Republicans would boldly stand up to any attempts to tell capitalists how to run their businesses? The GOP still claims to be the pro-business party, but you wouldn’t know it from the way many in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail are harassing corporations for the sin of responding constructively to society’s evolution on issues like climate change and LGBTQ rights. 

As unnerving as it is to watch Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and ranking House Republicans attacking corporate America with all the fervor of 1960s anti-capitalism socialists, it’s a telling illustration of just how situational the party’s once staunchly pro-corporate legacy has become. 

Corporate America has to a large extent always reflected the societal mores of the nation at large. The pre-sexual-revolution, pre-Civil Rights era of corporate advertising vigorously reinforced the stringent gender and racial roles widely accepted at the time — until it became profitable for advertisers to recognize the cultural changes around them. Or at least unprofitable to ignore them. 

“You’ve come a long way, baby,” declared the iconic late 1960s ad campaign for Virginia Slims cigarettes. It sounds today like paternalism in service to a deadly habit, but it was nonetheless an example of fundamental evolution in how corporate America interacted with a changing society. Similarly, overtly racist corporate ad campaigns were commonplace until the Civil Rights movement rendered them bad for business. 

Say what you will about Republican politicians of those bygone eras, but it generally wouldn’t have occurred to them to suggest that big government should second-guess advertising or investment decisions being made in the boardrooms. The GOP’s fervent hands-off approach to business regulation wasn’t an entirely positive thing, especially in relation to, for example, workers’ rights and environmental issues. But it was a genuine principle that was consistently applied.  

The irony is especially thick when you consider that the GOP today is also pursuing a free-speech crusade that seeks to protect First Amendment rights for people who spread toxic lies online — but apparently not for corporations. This from the party that has vociferously supported the landmark 2010 case Citizens United v. FEC, which found that corporations have the same free-speech rights as individuals — speech rights some of those same Republicans now seek to curtail. 

To borrow from that old cigarette ad, society has come a long way from the days when people were automatically devalued based on their gender, their skin color or who they love. Corporations are merely reflecting that evolution in their advertising, investments and other public interactions. Those corporations, apparently, have come further along than the political party that used to have their backs.  

This editorial first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.