Last month North Carolina’s transgender laws were repealed through a compromised legislation signed by the state’s governor. The controversial laws had previously established that people were required to use the men or women’s bathroom in accordance to the gender identity assigned to them at birth. The legislation had been ridiculed as discriminatory to transgender people in both the popular media and among LGBT activist groups. In the context of the modern culture wars they represented the will of a majority of voters in North Carolina, as well as the Republican state legislature.
The overturning of the North Carolina bill is particularly interesting due to the nature in how this political upset was accomplished. Recent polls demonstrate that the state’s voters were almost evenly split in opinion toward the law in the face of heavily publicized national opposition sentiment. Republicans who initially supported the legislation held majority power in the state legislature and had a free hand to maintain their enforcement. One might assume that the overturning of the laws came by way of the state judiciary, but that was not the case. Instead, the pivotal factor that came in to play to overturn this controversial bill was the financial impact of basketball to the state of North Carolina.
The NCAA tournament had threatened to remove any further tournament games from the state as long as the laws remained in place. This would cost the state more than $250 million over the next six years. The 2017 NBA All Star games were already moved from Charlotte to New Orleans to protest the laws with threats of more boycotts and protests sure to come. The loss of the All Star game was reported to cost the state $100 million in revenues this year alone. PayPal, Deutsche Bank and other companies all canceled expansions into the state this year due to the bill, meaning a loss of both additional revenue and jobs for North Carolina. These boycotts and measures were not initiated by the public at large or any grass roots movement. This was a mass movement by corporate entities and profit centered organizations aimed directly and specifically against the state of North Carolina and its transgender laws.
The overturning of North Carolina’s transgender laws by corporate pressures and boycotts represent only the most recent of a growing trend and pattern in corporate America’s moralizing and putting their financial muscle and weight behind popular moral causes.
In 2015, after the massacre of black Christians at a Charleston, South Carolina church by white supremacist Dylann Roof; Walmart, Amazon, Sears, Kmart and Ebay all announced they were removing the confederate flag from their massive lists of products for sale. The flag was seen as a symbol of hate. (Ironically, the corporate and public relations move resulted in an immediate and massive boost in sales of the flag through other outlets.)
None of these corporations believed the loss of access to the flag would stop white supremacy or hate crimes. It was a low selling item prior to their decision but the public denunciation could gain the companies great social capital in the wake of the horrific murders in South Carolina. They were combining moralizing to politicizing for the sake of social good will and it was very inexpensive to do so.
Beginning last year Airbnb required all of its users to sign a non-discriminatory pledge that forbade discrimination. The required pledge that users MUST sign to utilize Airbnb services states:
“You commit to treat everyone—regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age—with respect, and without judgment or bias.”
It should be pointed out how this mandate is requiring the company’s customers to subordinate their personal, private standards and values to those of the company – or lie about them. In either case, the values and standards of those who quietly oppose the normalization of LGBT special rights are rendered antiquated by this trend of which Airbnb is only one part in corporate America.
Google has a similar pledge of commitment that users must sign if their organization wants to use Google services for their email and documents.
After the Trump immigration ban went into effect in late January Google donated over $4 million to organizations like the ACLU. Lyft and Uber made a pledge for as much as $3 million toward the same cause.
In a recent Virginia transgender case where a teenage girl was being forbidden to use the boys’ bathroom a coalition of 53 companies signed a brief and forwarded it to the state Supreme Court stating that “gender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.” Included among these 53 signatories were Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Twitter to name only a few. This action and standard is in line with corporate policy trends in America where 92% of Fortune 500 companies include “sexual orientation” in their non-discrimination policies and 82% include “gender identity.”
The reason for alarm is not the causes for which these companies are supporting or refusing to support. In a free market economy a business can render its political support to whomever they choose (unless it’s an LGBT related customer according to recent court decisions). The concern is that increasingly the battle for defining and upholding the standards of what is right and what is wrong in America is being led by corporations. The interests and financial imprint of these corporations in that battle for the “moral good” is leaving a social impact overwhelming to any other voices out there. When it comes to defining and standardizing what is right and wrong in our society this new corporate social activism is dwarfing the efforts of all other institutions and leaders.
The degree of impact which corporations have had in the last decade to define right and wrong in our society is due largely to the size of their purse strings. As the case of North Carolina’s transgender laws perfectly illustrates, it is hard to stand up against decisions that have economic effects in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It is also symptomatic of a more troubling reality. Corporations are increasingly able to make their voices heard and dominate the national conversation in defining what is right and what is wrong because so many of the voices who were once trusted in this role have lost their credibility.
At the top of this list are the politicians of Washington D.C. As our government and representatives descend into a quagmire of politicized and polarized dysfunction declarations of right and wrong are recognized as little more than opportunistic hypocrisy. Issues for which President Obama and Hillary Clinton were derided by Republican voices on the grounds of ethics and morality are now flatly defended for the sake of President Trump’s activities. The Democratic representatives follow the same pattern. Alabama’s Christian governor Robert Bentley proudly quoted scripture and spoke of God’s will defining his political positions to establish his and his party’s moral authority. Last week he resigned from the governorship in disgrace as it was found he had used state funds to cover up his own extramarital affair while in office.
This same expectation of hypocrisy and duplicity has rolled into American churches as our religious institutions have becomes seduced by the schemes and tactics of their political allegiances. How can the declarations of morality and immorality by Christian leaders be trusted when they evoke the same passionate devotion for their political endorsements as they do toward right and wrong? Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham went out of his way to endorse a Republican presidential candidate who epitomized many of the definitions of a fool found in the book of Proverbs last fall. He was only one of the most prominent and vocal of a long line of Christian leaders who did the same.
Finally, the failure of the family unit in our society has resulted in the lessons of right and wrong taught at the dinner table and in the ins and outs of daily life to be rendered powerless when confronted with the realities of life all around us.
This does not mean that we trust corporate America more than our politicians, or religious leaders or our family members. We do not have to trust them because corporate America is not enforcing and financing standards of right and wrong on the basis of any principled reality. Corporate America is interested in the bottom line. This devotion to the financial interests of their shareholders is, by definition, the driving force and purpose of a corporation. Therefore, when corporations involve themselves in the aggressive endorsement and enforcement of a policy related more to morality than to fiscal soundness, we must recognize they are merely purchasing the good will of their shareholders and the public at large. They are investing in their own interests, not the interests of society and certainly not principled standards of right and wrong.
This is ultimately the great problem. As the former authorities of right and wrong have stepped aside the vacuum has been filled by corporations with no commitment to any higher cause or set of values. Their commitment is ultimately to self-interest. This is not a legitimate or feasible standard upon which the standards of right or wrong should be based. This trend is symptomatic of the further unravelling of the moral standards and authority of our culture and society.