Economy & Business

Woke Capital Has Exposed Itself

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during a news conference before the NBA preseason basketball game between Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, October 8, 2019. (Kyodo/via Reuters)
Left and Right suddenly agree on the hypocrisy of corporate activism.

For more than four years — from the opening moments of the rise of so-called woke capital — conservatives have been yelling about the blatant, obvious hypocrisy of the entire activist corporate enterprise. The same companies that imposed or threatened economic sanctions against such states as Indiana, North Carolina, and Georgia after they used the democratic process to pass socially conservative legislation have been happily doing business in murderous nations like China and Saudi Arabia. Even worse, eager to avoid offending a government that can instantly shut off access to its immense market, they’ve granted China an enormous amount of control over their products and operations.

It’s an old problem, but thanks to the craven actions of the NBA and Blizzard Entertainment — two companies much-beloved by many American progressives — woke capital hasn’t just alienated conservatives, it’s alienated progressives who actually care about progressive values. The hypocrisy is now too glaring to be ignored. Consider a few important examples.

First, I’d urge you to read to read Zack Beauchamp’s excellent, scorching takedown of Blizzard’s decision to suspend a Hong Kong–based professional Hearthstone player (Hearthstone is a video card game based on characters from the Blizzard game universe) and forfeit his prize money after he voiced support for the Hong Kong protestors. Here’s Beauchamp, writing in Vox:

Censoring a professional player for expressing support for the democracy movement in Hong Kong — and seizing his money — is way over the line.

It isn’t merely adjusting a cosmetic part of the product to fit a particular market; it’s actively participating in the suppression of political speech on behalf of core liberal values. Blizzard is throwing its lot in with an authoritarian state, acting as an international agent of its repressive apparatus in opposition to fundamental human rights.

He’s exactly right. China has such a hold on an American company that an American company is engaging in an extraordinarily un-American act. It’s inexcusable.

Second, stop what you’re doing and read Jamil Smith at Rolling Stone. Smith is hardly anyone’s idea of a right-wing critic of woke capital, but conservatives can agree with every syllable of this paragraph:

For all its MLK Day t-shirts and other symbolic gestures towards wokeness here in the States, this is still the league that sees fit to do business with a regime that represses human rights whenever given the chance.The league even has a presence in Xinjang, in the northwest of the country. It is the Chinese region where Slate reported last year the nation’s authorities were holding roughly one million Muslims, the Turkic-speaking minority called Uighurs, in concentration camps. The NBA has a different kind of camp there — one of its three national training camps — in Ürümqi, Xinjang’s capital.

Finally, it was left-wing Deadspin that broke the news that ESPN’s senior news director had circulated a memo “mandating that any discussion” of the China NBA controversy “avoid any political discussions about China and Hong Kong, and instead focus on the related basketball issues.” It also published a scathing piece accusing ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith of “bootlicking” in his commentary on China.

To be clear, this is a very partial sampling of the left-wing political and media revulsion directed at the NBA, ESPN, and others over the course of the past few days. Yes, there have long been progressive critics of American corporate activity in China, but I can’t recall the last time I saw such a crescendo of criticism. In the most progressive quarters of the Internet, “woke capitalism” has been exposed as far less “woke” than it is “capitalist,” and its domestic political stands now look far more opportunistic than principled. When the going gets economically tough, these domestic culture warriors flee the foreign field.

Even worse, they bring Chinese speech values to American shores. Blizzard isn’t the only American company to punish speech that Chinese authorities despise. Yesterday, at an exhibition game against a Chinese team, the Philadelphia 76ers ejected two fans after they held up signs that said “Free Hong Kong” and “Free HK” and after they yelled “Free Hong Kong.”

In fact, the progressive criticism (I don’t think for a moment that conservative media has the slightest impact on Adam Silver) is probably responsible for the NBA issuing a second statement yesterday that more decisively declared that the NBA supports the free speech of its employees. But terrible damage has already been done. How many NBA players will feel truly free to attack China’s monstrous human-rights abuses?

I’m not naïve. I know that progressives who condemn the NBA today will cheer it tomorrow if and when it turns its hypocritical fire back on its domestic political foes. But regardless of domestic politics, American corporate complicity in Chinese censorship and Chinese suppression is now revealing itself as an issue that clearly transcends the partisan American divide. And if that short-lived unity can expose hypocrisy and alter the incentives that have led corporations to enable Communist human-rights abuses, then that unity is not in vain.

In the meantime, the next time that Disney or the NBA or any of the other compromised companies takes a “brave” stand against conservatives here at home, millions more Americans will know the truth. Their “principles” stop at the water’s edge. They’ll sell out those same ideals to chase the Chinese yuan.

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