Members of Communist Party USA are among those burning an American flag Jan. 21 on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. (Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)
What Conservatives Can Do to Fight Corporate Wokeness
Corporate wokeness increasingly is part of American society.
Justin Danhof, general counsel for the National Center for Public Policy Research, argues that Americans can and should stand up to woke ideology.
“The shareholder base of even large companies that are woke, like Facebook, Alphabet, Nike, they’re not monolithically left, but that’s what the vote looks like,” Danhof says. “The management of those companies, they have freedom to take stances against conservative values, because that’s what the vote looks like.”
Danhof, also director of his organization’s Free Enterprise Project, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss what conservative shareholders can do.
Rachel del Guidice: We’re joined today on The Daily Signal by Justin Danhof. He’s general counsel for the National Center for Public Policy Research. Justin, it’s great to have you on The Daily Signal.
Justin Danhof: Thanks, Rachel. Appreciate it.
Del Guidice: You’re the director of the conservative movement’s most effective shareholder activism organization. Can you tell us about that?
Danhof: Yeah. Basically, a little more than a decade ago, we looked at the landscape of where corporate America was heading and we got very, very concerned.
We saw, on issues from health care to the environment to social issues, that corporate America, in some instances, was lurching to the left. In some instances, sprinting to the left. We were so confused. Big business, this is supposed to be the one area of culture that conservatives have some lever of power, but we were losing it at a rapid pace.
We started the Free Enterprise Project. We started with a very simple mission, we’re just going to reverse engineer how the left is trying to take over corporate America.
Two tools they were using were very simple and very effective. And they were shareholder resolutions—every publicly traded company, if you’re an investor of a certain value, you’re allowed to put a resolution on the ballot that all the shareholders vote on for each of these companies. Then, the second was just showing up at investor meetings to speak values that we believe in.
We realize that the left was literally, at that point in time, the only one engaging in those arenas. They were the only ones filing shareholder resolutions with companies and they were the only ones showing up to annual meetings because conservatives ignored this cultural lane, frankly, to our peril.
Look at where we are in 2021. Ten years ago, when we started this, conservatives looked at us like we had a tinfoil hat. “What do you mean that you’re going after big business?” Now, I think everyone’s awake to the woke, that we have a problem with big business that the left—just like they did with academia, the mainstream media, many of our religious pillars of our institutions—they marched through the institutions and they took them over. Big business is just the most recent.
Del Guidice: We have talked a lot, too, about how this affected higher education. In the recent op-ed piece you wrote, you said, “The left took their slow march through academia and now completely control higher education. They went through Hollywood and have done the same thing.” Can you talk about how we got here and how we can climb out of this or begin to?
Danhof: Yeah. God bless the left for one thing, they did all of this in the sunshine. Everything was out in the open when it comes to taking over corporate America. It parallels most directly with academia. If you permit me to run the parallel, I’ve always called this a tri-part takeover. I’ve called it top-down, bottom-up, and outside-in.
If you parallel this with academia, the top-down part is what academia called academic freedom or tenure for professors. What did that turn into? It turned into blackballing conservatives and traditional-minded Americans from getting lifelong tenure in academia.
Now we’re at the point where dozens of major coastal elite universities have zero Republican professors because they’ve been blackballed. Same thing with corporate America.
How do board members get selected? Well, large companies don’t have the time to select their own board members, per se. They use search firms. The left figured this out. Guess what they did? They bought out the search firms. Now we’re at the point where the search firms bring potential board members to Fortune 500 companies that are all superwoke. They won’t bring someone that believes in traditional Judeo-Christian values. Never. Not going to happen.
We’ve got the same thing at the top. That’s what happened in academia, starting in the 1960s. That’s what’s happening there.
The bottom-up takeover, if you are a graduate student of any design, let alone an undergraduate student, if you believe in traditional and conservative values, you don’t speak those on campus.
Guess what? You’re beholden to your professors for your grade. Well, in the corporate campus, you’re beholden to your bosses for your paycheck, so we’ve reached the same level, where conservatives self-censor on campus because they’re scared about getting their grades reduced because of their beliefs. Same thing.
The cancel culture really that we’re experiencing in America, sure it’s Gina Carano getting canceled from Disney, that’s part of it, but that’s only a part of it. The real cancel culture is the employees at Coca-Cola and Cigna and Boeing and Disney that just simply don’t want to go to the racism train that’s being put on by Robin DiAngelo, who says that all white people are oppressors and all black people are oppressed.
They can’t speak up and speak their truth because they’re afraid they’re either going to get sent to a reeducation camp by HR or given a pink slip. That’s the real cancel culture. We have this bottom-up problem in business where folks can’t speak their truth if they believe in conservative truth or traditional values.
Then, the outside-in problem. That’s the world I live in. Again, I’ve been a shareholder activist for more than a decade for right-of-center causes and it’s very lonely. If I put a pie chart up right here for everyone to see a shareholder activist’s engagement from the right of center and left of center, you wouldn’t even see my sliver. OK?
That’s the problem, is the left, when they see a business they want to take over, they buy more. They don’t divest. They don’t boycott. They engage more in that company. That’s the state of play with the outside-in.
The shareholder activists investors, the rating agencies, they almost all come from the left. Conservatives do not engage business. Conservatives have this terrible knee-jerk reaction that we need to unlearn, that we claim we’re going to boycott.
Rachel, give me a conservative boycott that’s ever worked of a business. I’ll wait. We’ll sit here in silence for the next many hours because there isn’t one. That’s just the problem. Our claim of boycott is actually a hollow threat, so it hurts our cause. Don’t boycott.
Here’s a secret, the left threatens it from time to time, too, but their biggest effective tool is engagement.
Del Guidice: On that note, we’ve seen, especially recently in Georgia with the Georgia election bill passing, Coca-Cola, the national baseball league, all of these different entities are deciding that we’re going to pull out, we’re going to speak against this, because we don’t agree with it.
What is your perspective on that, how these big entities are deciding to be almost politicians in some ways? They’re coming out and making statements as a corporation and not as individuals.
Danhof: Well, again, in that issue, they’re only hearing from one side. If reports in the news are to be believed, Major League Baseball heard from Stacey Abrams, Al Sharpton, and members of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. They didn’t hear from us until after the fact. That’s just the point.
If we engage these business leaders from the onset, if our voices are in the room, we’re going to have more impact. That’s why I always say: Engage, don’t boycott. Right? From my understanding, there’s at least 1,200 major companies that are on the wrong side of voter integrity in Georgia, that are literally trying to corrupt our elections.
If I’m going to go shopping for my family, if I want to boycott, first I would have to look at all 1,200. I’d probably need to set up some sort of algorithm and figure out which stores I’m even allowed to go to. Then, once I get there, I would need a team of people behind me saying, “Oh, no, that product can’t go in the cart, that one can, that one can’t.”
We’re not going to boycott our way out of the problem, so we have to engage the companies and engage the ones that are especially bad. Engage Big Tech, engage Hollywood, because part of the problem is, if you’re only hearing from one perspective, why won’t you just give into that perspective? It’s human nature, right? Many of these large corporations never hear from folks that share the values that you and I share. They never hear from us.
Contact customer service, if you’re a customer. Contact investor relations, if you’re an investor. If you’re anybody, anywhere, all these companies claim they care about stakeholders now. Well, everybody’s a stakeholder because stakeholder is an amorphous term that means nothing. You have the right to contact any company on any issue. I implore folks to do that.
Del Guidice: You also talked about how the left dominates the shareholder proposal space. How would you say conservatives can work to dominate this space as well?
Danhof: Yeah. Again, the left, everything they did was in the sunshine. None of this was in smoke-filled rooms. None of this was with fancy mirror tricks. They did it all out in the sunshine.
All I’ve ever done at the Free Enterprise Project is literally reverse engineer what the left showed me how to do. I’ve just copied the left’s tactics. As a movement, if the right would just approximate the left’s army, we’ll have tremendous success in this arena.
The simple answer to your question—that was the broader answer—the simplest answer is vote. At corporate annual shareholder meetings, at every publicly traded company, there’s two sets of votes that are super important. Those are votes for board members and they’re votes for shareholder resolutions.
What happens is the equivalent of a red or purple state election that goes blue every single year because conservatives couldn’t be bothered to show up, while the left coalesces their money and they vote.
The shareholder base of even large companies that are woke, like Facebook, Alphabet, Nike, they’re not monolithically left, but that’s what the vote looks like. The management of those companies, they have freedom to take stances against conservative values because that’s what the vote looks like.
Conservative money—we couldn’t be bothered to vote on that Tuesday. Sorry. The left, they always vote. Use your money just like you’d use your electoral votes for politicians because you have the same amount of power.
If Andrew Breitbart, rest in peace, taught us anything, it’s that politics is downstream from culture. These votes on corporate culture, they effect politics. I implore folks to vote and not ignore your proxy ballots for corporations because they’re so meaningful for our society.
Del Guidice: Well, in speaking about Major League Baseball and these other entities that have come out and made political statements, there was a poll that came out this week that said over 60% of Americans don’t like when big corporations went into these big political fights. The message is, people are starting to say that they’re frustrated by this.
What do you think will happen? Do you think corporations are going to start to listen and do something about it or is it going to be ignored still? What is your perspective?
Danhof: Well, the polling has been somewhat consistent on that for a while, interestingly. That’s just the point. If the left is going to be a squeaky wheel over here and we’re going to make a squeak every now and again, then no, nothing’s going to change. If we’re the squeaky wheel on the other side, guess what? We’ll provide an off-ramp for companies to say, “Wait a minute, this wasn’t our fight to begin with. This was a legislative battle in a state. Maybe we have nothing to do with it.”
Because guess what? I want companies to be fully engaged when there’s an issue that affects their bottom line. When it affects their investors, when it affects their customers, their shareholders, yes, be fully engaged. But voting laws? Bathroom bills? These things have nothing to do with the bottom line of corporations.
If there’s enough chatter on both sides, I think we’re going to build an off-ramp for companies to say, “Hey, maybe we should focus on our business for five minutes rather than engaging in the culture wars.”
The culture wars, guess what? They should be left to the culture warriors, right? I’ll fight that battle. I’ll fight that battle and I’ll debate anybody from the [Southern Poverty Law Center] or the Human Rights Campaign any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Bank of America doesn’t need to be funding the SPLC or the Human Rights Campaign. Goldman Sachs doesn’t need to be involved in that.
Yeah, if there’s enough chatter from our side, because we know there’s enough on the other side, let’s build them the off-ramp because I think, deep down, many businesses know that it’s their legal, fiduciary responsibility to look after the best interests of their investors. They’re bending to the will of those that are talking to them. We need to have more conversations.
Del Guidice: Lastly, as we wrap up, I wanted to get your thoughts on different companies. I think it was Delta [Air Lines], I could be wrong, but they’re talking about how they want to hire X amount of female pilots. Other people talking about, we want to see this gender represented or we want this race to be represented.
When we all want opportunity, how do you think it’s best to focus more on people’s qualifications and their talent for being somewhere versus making it about gender or race or whatever?
Danhof: Yeah. That’s a great question. It was United [Airlines] that came out with that. They said 50% of their pilots that they want to hire in the future to be diverse.
When I saw that headline, I thought to myself, “United Airlines exclaims that affirmative action for higher education has been a failure, right?” That was supposed to be equality of opportunity. What they’re saying is equality of opportunity doesn’t work, so we want equality of outcome.
My whole philosophy with business and my engagement with them has been, I think diversity is super important, but I think diversity goes beyond skin surface characteristics.
I don’t think diversity is what you look like. I don’t think diversity is which restroom you use. I think diversity is who you are as a person, your ethos, your belief system. I think that, at the higher levels of business, the more people that think differently, they’re going to ask the critical questions at the critical time.
My concern for big businesses is monolithic groupthink. That’s where you’re all going to walk off the same ledge at the same hour at the same minute on the same day. No one stopped to think, “Well, what does someone else’s perspective bring to this discussion?”
I do think that diversity of thought will lead to diversity of skin color characteristics and then gender diversity as well. I think that’s where we should start with diversity, is diversity of thought. We have to ask critical questions if we’re going to beat these large businesses going forward.
Just to force diversity of outcome and equality of outcome, that’s very scary as an investor. It’s very scary as a citizen. It’s very scary as a traveling member of the flying public that someone’s going to be put in charge of the plane solely because of how he or she looks, not because of how he or she operates an airplane.
That’s where I would say … we can focus on diversity, but viewpoint diversity would enhance the discussion. Just having different genders and different races in the room, that doesn’t enhance a discussion.
Not all women think the same, based on the fact that they’re women. In America, we used to call that sexism. Not all black Americans think the same, based on the fact of their skin color. Once again, in America, we used to call that racism. I think we need to get back to calling sexism and racism for what it is, true sexism and racism.
Yeah, you’re not going to find, in the corporate world, a bigger proponent of diversity than myself. I just think that diversity comes from the inner, not the outer.
Del Guidice: Justin, thank you for joining us on The Daily Signal. It’s been great having you with us.
Danhof: Thanks so much, Rachel. I appreciate it.
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