An odd effect of the cultural left’s growing control over our institutions is that corporatists now hold even more influence over American politics. Leftists are literally begging them to increase their political power. It’s weird.
The cultural left is ideologically rooted in anti-capitalism, but its recent obsession with using corporations to restrict the boundaries of acceptable political thought and debate suggest many young leftists aren’t as anti-capitalist as they like to imagine. Take Colin Kaepernick, who last year approvingly tweeted this passage from Robert L. Allen’s “Black Awakening in Capitalist America,” which criticizes “black capitalism” and efforts that “weld the black communities more firmly into the structure of American corporate capitalism.”
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That’s a strange sentiment from a man who is now enmeshed financially with Disney and Nike. Kaepernick is intentionally using major corporate brands to promote his cultural ideology, which is purportedly rooted in anti-capitalist goals. Advancing a mission by exploiting American consumer culture is, of course, extremely capitalist. Profiting off multinational corporate empires is too. (Even playing in the NFL would implicate him in the terrifying crime of capitalism.)
Kaepernick’s example is representative of a much broader trend, including other “radical” celebrities who depend on and perpetuate the capitalist system. Take the left’s advertising boycotts against journalists like Tucker Carlson, which breathlessly demand corporations police political speech by starving news outlets of advertising revenue. Such campaigns only give corporations more control over the fourth estate.
Leftists demand white liberal CEOs use their corporate might to change team names that don’t offend the allegedly marginalized parties, and applaud their actions. They screech obsessively for tech moguls to enforce leftist standards of speech on their enormous platforms. While this accomplishes the far left’s cultural goals, it clearly undercuts their economic ones, which they claim are necessarily connected.
To be clear, the cultural left is certainly not co-opting the capitalist system. Capitalists are using the cultural left to promote their brand and increase their profits. Convinced target demographics will reward virtue signaling. Perhaps someone like Kaepernick believes his charity work offsets his personal involvement with Nike or Disney. That doesn’t make it any less capitalist, or make his work any less of a boost to the brand. (Or so they think, at least.)
There’s a legitimate question to be asked of what makes an authentic leftist in 2020. The far left claims its cultural goals are inextricably intertwined with anti-capitalism, and then begs capitalists to promote its values, which only gives the capitalists more money and more power. That’s why they’re doing it.
The other consequence, of course, is that those corporatists who perpetuate the capitalist system amass even more control over our politics. They are the people ultimately being given more authority over political discourse as a result of the left’s insistence on this incoherent blend of capitalism and progressivism. Activists may be convinced it’s a ground-up movement, from leftist activists to beguiled elites, but however you slice it, the result is more political power in the hands of the ultra-powerful corporate class. They are not being duped into dismantling capitalism.
Leftists loves to chatter in the abstract about the inextricable intertwinement of their cultural goals and anti-capitalism. That, however, renders those theories incompatible with the strain of leftism that’s developed in the age of social media, which openly asks corporatists to take more power over our politics, pushing for cultural wins that bring economic losses.