Repeat after me: Corporate America is not your friend. They are not your friend when they stop running ads on a right-wing propaganda show. They are not your friend when they run feel-good multicultural rainbow Super Bowl ads. They are not your friend when they pull their NRA perks. They are not your friend when they defend LGBTQ rights. They are not your friend when they restrict sales of AR-15s.
Are we glad when big corporations make these choices, often under pressure and duress, which happen to coincide with the public good? Absolutely. Do not let yourself imagine, though, that they are making these decisions out of some charitable or noble impulse. There is a reason that the bottom line is called the bottom line. Corporations act for one reason alone: to maximize executive salaries and shareholder value. They don’t act to maximize value to you, or to be loyal to a nation, or to promote tolerance or any other lovely thing. Corporations are there to make money for their wealthy execs and wealthy shareholders.
Here, the counter-example of FedEx is an instructive one. FedEx has not cut ties with the NRA. Why? Because FedEx makes a lot of money from a special relationship with the NRA and the gun manufacturers that the NRA represents. They are not any more or less benevolent than UPS (although I vastly prefer UPS, thanks to their Teamsters-organized workforce). FedEx did the math and it came out differently for them because they have a special deal with dozens of gun makers that enables them to make a mint off the shipment of handguns.
So no, I’m not sad that Georgia Republicans have decided to punish Delta for walking away from the NRA by pulling Delta’s corporate welfare. It’s a nasty tactic but they understand the game. The politicians were just trying to change the math for Delta. I didn’t support that corporate tax giveaway before Delta gave the NRA the cold shoulder and I don’t support it now.
Sometimes maximizing shareholder value happens to coincide with decent behavior such as advocating for immigration or LGBTQ tolerance, or throwing some token dollars at corporate social responsibility window-dressing. These are lucky coincidences.
Consider, for example, the treatment of their workforces. Why does the white-collar professional creative class get plied with extensive perks and decent pay while blue-collar and service workers get treated like a chain gang? Corporate America happens to see value in professional workers and treats them like actual human beings so that they will actually stick around. The working class, on the other hand, is viewed as disposable, a commodity to be continually replaced (unless forced to do otherwise by unions or bad publicity).
If you fall on the happy side of that divide, it doesn’t mean the corporation is your friend. When a robot comes along to read your spreadsheets or write your news articles, you’ll see just how friendly things are.
So if corporate America decides that running a pro-immigrant ad during the Super Bowl will help sell more Cokes, than that’s what they will do. And if they decide that selling millions of pain pills into a town of 400 people will enrich their shareholder beyond belief, they will do that too. Corporate America is not your friend when they sponsor Chamber of Commerce seminars on how to break unions, and they are not your friend when they sponsor summits on women empowerment.
We forget this at our peril, and the nation’s. Because, Democrats, we are supposed to be the friend of the worker, not the corporation. The more we forget this fact, aligning ourselves with supposedly benevolent corporations and happily taking their cash, the more the multiracial working class of this nation is left to fend for itself. The more desperate these workers become, the more willing they will be to trust the siren song of scarcity that says, “There are only so many seats at the table, so we must secure those seats for US and good luck to THEM, the immigrants. Forget about the poor, rural whites who struggle, or the urban African-Americans who might be jobless or disproportionately incarcerated.”
Democrats, it’s the multiracial working class that is your friend — and you need to be their friend again. Tell Corporate America that you appreciate their ethical opportunism and their election cash, but you are going to stick with workers, thank you very much.
Krystal Ball is the liberal co-host of a bipartisan morning video show being launched by The Hill this spring. She is president of The People’s House Project, which recruits Democratic candidates in Republican-held congressional districts of the Midwest and Appalachia, and a former candidate for Congress in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @krystalball.