Some top Republicans are getting cold feet over Ron DeSantis’s fight with Disney. The Florida governor has been locking horns with the Walt Disney Company for more than a year. His beef is with Disney’s arrogant decree that it would use its economic clout to wound and ideally kill off his House Bill 1557, branded the ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill’ by some commentators. Now passed into law, as the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, HB1557 limits what schoolteachers can say about ‘sexual orientation [and] gender identity’ to kids under the age of 10. ‘Unacceptable’, said the bosses of Disney as they peered with aristocratic scorn at the democratic process from their ivory-tower-cum-Cinderella-Castle.
It is a fascinating stand-off. It represents one of the first serious efforts by a politician in the modern West to hold at bay the burgeoning power of woke capital; to tame the burning corporate urge to intrude on the realm of democracy. And yet some in the GOP are starting to bristle at DeSantis v Disney, wishing it would just go away. We’re supposed to be a pro-business party, they cry, and yet there’s Ron getting into a scrap with a business. ‘I don’t think Ron DeSantis is a conservative based on his actions toward Disney’, said the Republican governor of New Jersey Chris Christie last week. We shouldn’t be telling business ‘what to say, how to think’, he said.
The Hill reports that ‘deep divides’ are emerging in the GOP, with some ‘worried the party is straying from its roots by going after the internal politics of big business’. Some Republicans’ boycotting of Bud Light over its promo campaign with TikTok fake-girl Dylan Mulvaney has also got the GOP worried. Indeed, the National Republican Congressional Committee swiftly deleted a tweet slagging off Bud Light – ‘we can all finally admit that Bud Light tastes like water’, it said – presumably after someone reminded it that Bud Light’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch, is one of the Republican party’s biggest donors. GOP insiders are fretting that business-bashing by anti-woke Republicans has reached such a level that we’re now ‘biting the hand that feeds [us]’.
We definitely live in strange times when it comes to democracy and capitalism. Everything has been turned on its head. Democrats and even self-styled radicals cosy up to big business, imploring it to put its money where its mouth is and Do Something about social injustice. Meanwhile, ostensibly pro-market right-wingers behave like student agitators of yesteryear, condemning the capitalist elite for its political overreach and threatening to boycott its wares. This 21st-century weirdness is beautifully captured in Disney v DeSantis. On one side we have woke liberals, the kind of people who say they want to tear down the heteronormative patriarchal capitalist superstructure, begging Disney’s boss class to ‘actively oppose’ HB1557. And on the other we have a right-leaning possible future president of the United States effectively saying: ‘Back off, corporation.’
And yet the GOP bigwigs taking swipes at DeSantis are wrong. They clearly don’t understand what is at stake not only in DeSantis v Disney, but also in the broader irritation many people feel with woke capitalism and its insatiable appetite for re-engineering public life to make it accord with its own eccentric creeds. Corporate activism represents a grave threat to democratic life. When powerful actors in the business world play an outsized role in politics – whether they’re clubbing together to discuss how to tear down ‘restrictive voting laws’ in states like Georgia or banning elected politicians like Donald Trump from social media – equality itself is undermined. The view of the capitalist oligarch comes to carry more weight than the views of the citizenry, and that should be intolerable to everyone who believes in democracy – left or right.
The first reason DeSantis was right to stand up to Disney is because HB1557 was not a horrible, homophobic law, as some claimed. No, it’s a popular piece of legislation designed to deal with something many parents are concerned about: the transformation of the classroom into a site of social re-engineering, in which teacher-cum-activists have become obsessed with inculcating kids with correct-think on everything from gender to race. Many parents agree that under-10s should not be told there are 72 genders. DeSantis won a landslide victory in the midterms in November, securing the votes of many Latinos and working-class whites: the kind of people who are deeply opposed to the ideological capture of education by the purple-haired ideologues of the new elite. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe the views of these voters should hold more weight than the views of Disney’s clique of aloof bosses.
The second reason we should support DeSantis against Disney is because this clash might just be the start of a much-needed fightback against the woke corporate assault on democracy. We live in a world in which companies brazenly refuse to pass donations to ‘controversial’ activists like the Canadian truckers. Where corporations like PayPal openly dream of fining users thousands of pounds if they spread ‘misinformation’. Where American Express, Mastercard, Amazon and others block donations to members of the US Congress who say things they disapprove of. Where hip billionaires in Silicon Valley will expel you from the modern public square if you say men are not women. Where Ben & Jerry’s thinks nothing of dictating to elected governments what policies they should adopt. And where the likes of Disney, Coca-Cola, Starbucks and others look to punish states that pass laws they don’t like. ‘Corporate America is, once again, weighing in on politics, and Republicans aren’t happy’, crows the left, with spectacular foolishness.
This is an oligarchical onslaught against the workings of democracy. It is an attack on citizens’ fundamental rights to raise money for political campaigns, to freely associate with one another, to express their political views, and to expect that their voice will count for as much as the voice of richer people who run big businesses like Disney. GOP members who cry ‘But what about the rights of private companies?’ have failed to clock the existential nature of the battle at hand, which is between an unaccountable elite on one side and reason, democracy and the common sense of the electorate on the other. I know which side I’m on. Cry more, Disney.
Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer. This article was first published HERE