One important question raised by all this is if there is a deeper force at work. Have America’s corporations shifted to the left, even as national government has moved toward the Republican Party? Or are companies just more sensitive to protests than a divided government is?
In many cases, America’s corporate community has become a quiet defender of socially liberal causes. Nearly 400 companies filed an amicus brief in 2015 urging the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage, including Amazon, Aetna, Apple, American Airlines, American Express, and AT&T (and those are just the ones starting with the first letter of the alphabet). Hundreds of executives, many from tech companies, signed a 2017 letter urging the president to protect immigrants brought to the U.S. as children by saving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. When North Carolina passed a law against transgender-friendly bathrooms, the NCAA announced in 2016 that it would pull its college-basketball tournament from the state (and other companies withdrew their business, too).
It would be strange to call these corporations “liberal.” By and large, they support the GOP’s economic policies, which in just the last year have eased regulations and slashed corporate taxes by several trillion dollars. But on social issues, national and multinational companies have moved left of the GOP, even as many Republican figures (particularly the president) have found it useful, or at least tantalizing, to play up cultural flash points, like trans rights and undocumented labor. This has created a bizarre dynamic, where many companies feel public pressure to assert their values by rebuking Republican politics, even as many of them directly benefit from the GOP’s economic platform.
But there is something else happening: Corporations are becoming more democratic than democratic governance itself. Or, at least, they have proven to be far more responsive to political outcries and scandals than political parties. In the #MeToo movement, many corporate boards quickly dismissed their credibly accused executives, while Republicans (and some Democrats) wavered over how to punish accused officials and candidates, like Representative Patrick Meehan, the Alabama Senate contender Roy Moore, and, well, the president of the United States. In the gun debate, too, many companies moved to distance themselves from the NRA before the state of Florida or the federal government could propose or act on new legislation to limit gun violence.
National government in an age of Republican control is mostly unresponsive to liberal protests. So, many activists are focusing their ire on the business community. A corporation is a knot of products, services, and policies, and activists have seen that any one string can be grabbed, pulled, and scrutinized, until the company agrees to cut it away.