Nike and other companies are using their power to pressure the Washington Redskins into changing their name, either out of fear of the cultural left or support for it. Realistically, their motivation is a combination of both. Cheerleading the move, however, further empowers corporations to police political discourse—an effect you’d think the left would oppose.
This gets at the tension between the cultural left and the economic left, which is a marriage that increasingly makes less sense. Consider this lede from a Washington Post story last August: “The majority of Native Americans still aren’t offended by the name of the Washington Redskins.”
“As a reporter,” Theresa Vargas wrote, “I spent a lot of time writing about the name debate, and I can tell you that I was as surprised as anyone by the poll’s results. I would have bet my car that over the years attitudes had changed, at least a little.
“But no,” she continued, “both polls found 9 out of 10 Native Americans were not offended by the team’s name.”
The survey of 500 self-identified Native Americans found “68 percent of the respondents were not offended by the team’s name.” When the survey offered respondents “with more than 40 emotions and asked them to indicate whether each represented how they felt about the team’s name,” Vargas said, “The word picked most was ‘proud.’”
But Nike knows better. The company, under the direction of very white leadership (the president and CEO is a Democratic donor), removed Redskins gear from its website this week. Investment firms and shareholders have signed letters asking affiliated corporations to use their financial power to pressure the team into a name change. FedEx, which has naming rights to the Redskins’ field, responded by requesting the change.
A wave of new research indicates enough consumers will reward brands for taking leftist stances that it justifies wading into these fraught cultural conversations. Reporting on a survey last summer, Axios wrote, “When it comes to taking a stand on issues, younger, liberal Americans are more likely to want corporations to get involved, according to the poll. This is why brands like Nike that cater to younger, more diverse customers have chosen to take strong stands on social issues.” In June, Sara Fischer reported, “Data shows that brands have less to lose when speaking out on issues such as civil rights and gay rights than they would when speaking out against other hot-button issues, like abortion or guns.”
While I’m not sure respondents in these surveys really know what they’re asking for, the point is that corporations are now latching onto leftist causes, many of which are ultimately anti-capitalist, to protect their bottom line. They don’t see it as a risk. They are using radical progressivism to promote capitalism.
The effect is that a cadre of powerful corporatists in Manhattan boardrooms are now exerting even more influence over our politics. Neoliberals welcome and abet their cooperation, while some leftists don’t even seem to be realize exactly what kind of monster they’re creating. Culturally, they’ve conquered Corporate America. But it’s only setting back the far left’s economic goals, which they also insist are inextricably intertwined with culture.
Consider boycott campaigns like the one that unsuccessfully sought to deplatform Tucker Carlson. Leftist organizers essentially demanded corporatists to police political speech, handing rich white guys the keys to the conversation. That’s also what they do when demanding Big Tech implement speech restrictions on major platforms.
This further disenfranchises non-leftist Americans straight into the arms of people like Donald Trump. It eliminates our ability to meaningfully debate serious problems by effectively silencing “the other side,” which is an essential component in the process of refining ideas. It facilitates classism, which should be antithetical to authentic leftism. And it cuts against their economic agenda.
In short, it’s foolish. If you want corporations and the wealthy people who control them to have less influence over our politics, think twice before demanding they use their brands to support social justice. The left’s campaign against the Redskins illustrates this perfectly by empowering corporations to change a name that does not offend most Native Americans and actually gives many of them pride.