Businesses in Retreat from Cultural Wars

Banks Corporations Protests

           New Orleans      Anyone who ever thought that corporations were going to help lead changes in American culture and society are sadly disappointed at the screeching of tires as companies put any notion of such a role into rear gear.  A torrent of recent reports clearly documents the corporate world in retreat from earlier claims of diversity and climate sensitivity.  The openings in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, Black Lives Matter, and climate activism that moved many consumer-facing companies to get off the sidelines, now seems closed as the same companies’ cluster far back to the rear and in silence.

Late stage, early stage, middle stage, and every other stage of capitalism puts sales and profit first, so once inflation, fears of recession, and fierce conservative and political pushback came together, the backtracking was predictable.  Crisis managers and public relations whizzes are having a field day as companies duck-and-cover hoping to avoid the culture wars or trying to parse how to navigate and find some neutral ground for their customers, if there is any left.

One after another quoted in the business press said versions of the same swill.

An executive for PPG, once known as Pittsburgh Plate & Glass, hardly a company that would even come to mind as a mass consumer outfit, voiced this party line:

We run a business. We don’t run a political organization.  We don’t run a religious organization, and we don’t run a social organization.  However [we] recognize that we operate in a society.  We hire employees with opinions and views.  We work with customers that have opinions and views.  So we have to take all that into account.

What is he really saying about PPG and what they will say and do:  absolutely nothing!  This is pablum without taste or meaning, simply a regurgitation of vacuity.

Another with a golf outfit, Parsons Xtreme Golf, pulls the shell over the company even tighter, saying

Both Republicans and Democrats – far left, far right – all buy golf clubs.  Why hit the beehive with a stick?

This is the same guy who founded the online registration outfit, GoDaddy, that used to be known by its sexually sleazy advertising at Super Bowls and wherever, so I guess it all depends on what culture you are catering to.

Shareholder initiatives at oil-and-gas companies have lost votes and failed miserably this season.  Protests are being organized claiming that Bank America is un-American for refusing to lend to some coal and fossil-fuel outfits.  Some red state legislatures have barred banking with banks that invest in climate or advance ESG, environment, social & governance, programs.  The number of executives mentioning ESG or sustainability or climate at all has tanked.

When companies reap the benefits of society, but hide in silence and opaqueness from participation in the advance of society, it’s really inexcusable.  The fact that none of this is surprising doesn’t change the fact that it is totally shameful.