Republicans are following the Pied Piper of Mar-a-Lago down a twisted trail of sedition and anti-democratic extremism. That’s weakening the party’s historically strong bond with U.S. business leaders, who are appalled by former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new social media network called ‘TRUTH Social’ Virginia State Police investigating death threat against McAuliffe Meadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report MORE’s delusional bid to void the 2020 election, as well as a concerted push by red state officials to make it harder to vote, get a legal abortion or protect school children from unvaccinated adults.
In Texas, for example, leading local corporations such as American Airlines and Southwest Airlines are flouting Republican Governor Greg AbbottGreg AbbottThe 10-point Republican immigration plan is punitive and harmful to our country More than 40 Texas hospitals face ICU bed shortages Southwest drops plan to put unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave MORE’s executive order banning private companies from requiring their workers to get COVID-19 vaccines, while iconic Georgia firms such as Coca Cola and Delta Airlines condemned the Republican legislature’s passage of a severely restrictive voting law last Spring.
The growing rift between business and a Trumpified GOP marinating in grievance and paranoia should be opening doors for Democrats. But they’ve got a business problem of their own, namely the high media profile of leftwing activists who are reflexively hostile to our largest and most successful companies.
Listen to almost any speech by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersUnder pressure, Democrats cut back spending The Memo: Cuts to big bill vex Democrats Democrats say they’re committed to reducing emissions in Biden plan MORE (I-Vt.) or members of the “Squad,” and it quickly becomes apparent who the villains are in their anti-capitalist morality play: billionaires and big corporations. As they tell it, these sinister forces have rigged the economic game, crushed the working class, enfeebled unions, pushed inequality to record levels and corrupted our elected representatives with campaign cash.
As with most conspiracy theories, there are shards of truth in this dark narrative. But much is left out. The same “Big Tech” and e-commerce companies that some Democrats threaten to break up helped Americans stay connected to family and friends, keep working and learning, and shop without leaving home during the pandemic shutdowns. They also generated the most robust job growth during the COVID recession. Major drug companies, ritually flayed by politicians for high prices, also have banked good karma by coming up with highly sophisticated and effective COVID vaccines in record time.
No one thinks America’s economy is working as it should, but there’s scant evidence that voters are ready to trade free markets for democratic socialism. There’s a strong public appetite for building a fairer society and a more inclusive prosperity, as President BidenJoe Biden White House: US has donated 200 million COVID-19 vaccines around the world Police recommend charges against four over Sinema bathroom protest K Street revenues boom MORE’s Build Back Better agenda aims to do.
But Americans also want a more dynamic private sector that generates lots of new jobs and avenues for career advancement, as well as the new private wealth that enables more generous social investment and redistribution.
Progressive class warriors keep butting up against these stubborn realities. Business-bashing rhetoric may get activists’ blood boiling, but it doesn’t offer a hope-inspiring economic vision to the 158 million Americans (about 85 percent of the workforce) who work in the private sector. They know they can’t get higher pay and better benefits if their companies can’t compete and make those profits leftist elites find so distasteful.
Progressives have a ready epithet for those in their party deemed too friendly to private enterprise and business: “corporate Democrats.” Voters, however, don’t think that’s a problem. On the contrary, according to a recent survey of 2022 battleground districts and states commissioned by the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), two-thirds of voters say that Democrats are “too anti-business.” This includes 73 percent of independents. Strikingly, even 42 percent of Democrats agree with this criticism of their party.
Yet some Democrats seem intent on reinforcing their reputation as the anti-business party. Both the House and Senate are considering a bundle of bills aimed at breaking up or heavily regulating Big Tech companies on the grounds that they are, well, just too big.
Although presented as an attempt to update U.S. anti-trust laws, the bills don’t examine economic concentration across the entire economy. That would have been a useful exercise. Instead, they target a handful of tech and e-commerce leaders – Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook – alleging that they are using monopoly power to squeeze out competitors and hold down workers’ wages.
In fact, the market for digital services and e-commerce is hotly competitive, as prices ranging from low to free demonstrate. Moreover, as PPI Chief Economist Michael Mandel has documented, the tech/e-commerce sector has become the biggest source of new, high-wage jobs, eclipsing manufacturing and health care.
In addition, Americans value highly the integrated services they would lose if the tech companies were broken up, such as Amazon’s free shipping, or Google Maps and search results that give people real time information on traffic delays, business hours and consumer reviews. While concerns about data privacy and security are pervasive, there’s no public groundswell for breaking up or drastically regulating America’s most innovative and competitive tech companies. Just 3 percent of battleground voters rank changing the way tech companies do business as their top economic priority.
Democrats shouldn’t let themselves be stampeded into joining the anti-tech crusade driven mainly by leftish academics and activists and rightwing populists. The private sector always needs strong public oversight and sensible regulation. But it’s not the enemy of progressive government.
Pragmatic Democrats understand that government versus markets is a false political dichotomy. To bring about transformative and enduring change, both the public and private sectors need to row in the same direction.
Will Marshall is president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).