Our private sector must stop taking cues from the Outrage-Industrial Complex. Americans do not need or want big business to amplify disinformation or react to every manufactured controversy with frantic left-wing signaling… From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government. Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.
Obviously, this quote is stupid. No, corporations and the left do not hold sentimental fuzzy feelings towards each other. No, massive multinational companies are not in favor of increasing environmental regulations. No, random woke scolds on Twitter do not influence the policy of the richest people on the planet. Of course, the Republicans are the party of big business. This is boring. Everyone knows this.
But isn’t this an interesting moment? We are at the point where not even the old vanguard of corporate rights can deny the danger of corporate power. “Parallel government” is a far more radical condemnation of big business than I have heard even from Bernie Sanders. Coming from the conservative leader of the most powerful country in the world, it feels like the political establishment acknowledging its own failure to maintain the liberal democratic order.
We cannot return to “normal”: even the political elites are recognizing this. The old rhetoric of free trade and hard work leading to prosperity for everyone no longer works. Regardless of what you think the problem is, it’s becoming universally understood that we cannot continue on this trajectory, and corporate power plays a central role in the insecurity of our situation.
What can the Republican party even do about this? They may get awful upset about The Cat’s Quizzer going out of print, but I’m not sure they have the tools necessary to combat this problem. McConnell has defined his political career by fighting against campaign finance laws and defending corporate “free speech”, so limiting the ability of big business to influence politics in any meaningful way would require major sacrifices on his part.
There is an image that comes to mind for me. Vladimir Putin sitting at a table surrounded by oil oligarchs, scolding them, calling them cockroaches. They had not paid their workers for three months, and in response labor union protests shut down the city. Putin came to the factory personally to put an end to the unrest and force the oligarchs to sign an agreement to pay their workers and open the factory again.
Like a guilty schoolchild, Oleg Deripaska, once the wealthiest man in Russian, is castigated for only pretending to sign the agreement. Putin throws his pen on the document, and demands Deripaska walk over to his end of the table to sign it in front of the cameras. He signs and almost walks off with the pen, but Putin demands it back. Deripaska looks humiliated. Classic Putin.
It is a wonderful piece of theater. It tells a very simple story: greedy businessmen try to take advantage of the Russian people, but Putin comes in and shows them who’s really boss. A shark among sharks, Putin is the only one who can stand up to the elites trying to crush the little guy.
Call me crazy, but I think this is precisely the vibe Trump was going for. His rise to the presidency portrayed a very similar narrative of a dominant masculine figure standing up for the people against corrupt goons. It’s really incredible if you think about it: he defeated representatives of the two dominant political dynasties of our time, the Bushes and the Clintons. Trump is nothing if not a showman after all.
The conservatives are in an odd predicament. They have to pretend to be fixing the problems they created, while at the same time doing nothing of substance to solve these problems. They need corporate donors to fund their campaigns, and they can’t fill the liberal niche of changing things so slowly it barely offends the corporate order. As performative as the conservatives have been lately, I see no reason for them to get substantive any time soon.
This brings me to my deeper point. We live in a period of instability in political thought in the United States. The traditional political forms are no longer viable and people are looking for alternatives. There are a few: there’s the authoritarian populism of Putin, Chinese state capitalism, and the European model. Right now, it seems like the Democrats are inching their way towards the European model, while the right is being forced towards a sort of flaccid Putinism. McConnell’s parallel government, the corporations, might favor the path China is taking.
None of these approaches actually do anything to challenge corporate power. At best, they merely give the population tools to cope with it. If we can’t rely on the current power structure to solve our problems, that means we the people must create our own parallel institutions to fight back against corporations. I recently wrote an article on the history of the black church that explains how parallel institutions have been used to combat white supremacy since before the United States were established.
We will not be able to use the same exact blueprint, but the idea is the same. People will create local institutions that solve problems within their own communities, experimenting with different forms of organization. The successful experiments will spread and organize into larger institutions. These institutions when they become large enough will give us alternative ways to solve the problems that seem intractable under the current system. If powerful crooks get their own parallel institution, so do we.