Published April 26, 2022
Mickey needs new management. Disney stumbled into the debate about Florida’s parental rights bill, and then kept yapping after losing that fight. Various Disney leaders were even caught on video boasting of “adding queerness” and “queer stories” to as much Disney content as possible.
Florida Republicans have responded by passing a bill that threatens to remove some of Disney’s special privileges in the state. Although the bill leaves some time to negotiate before it takes effect, it is still a significant strike against Disney. This was, as John Daniel Davidson recently argued in The Federalist, the right response: Republicans must push back against woke corporatism and capital.
After all, targeting woke capital and corporations is not about punishing actual owners for using their property as they see fit. Rather, in almost every instance, woke corporations are run by managers who do not own more than a tiny fraction of the companies they direct. Yet they nonetheless view the property they have in trust as their own, to be used for their personal political and ideological goals.
The left has learned that turning a corporation woke doesn’t require buying it. All it takes is a few key executives, some vocal employees, and a bit of social media pressure. That has been enough to push company after company into BLM-supporting, pride-flag-waving, diversity-consultant hiring wokeness.
Shareholders Can’t Hold Disney Accountable
Disney is an ideal example of this. Disney is controlled by business managers, acting on behalf of financial managers. Bob Iger, Disney’s former chief executive officer and current executive chair and chair of the board of directors, is reportedly the largest individual shareholder, with less than a tenth of 1 percent of the company’s outstanding stock. The actual ownership of Disney is held by various investment groups, which are themselves acting as managers for the money they hold on behalf of millions of us.
Disney is not run by its owners. It is run by managers. And they in turn are accountable to financial managers who are investing money that belongs to other people.
Buying into, say, an index fund offered by Vanguard that includes Disney stock gets Vanguard a seat at the table, not the individual investor. This multilayered management scheme makes it all but impossible for the people whose money was used to buy shares in Disney to hold Disney’s executives accountable.
As this illustrates, for every woke activist billionaire there are many more woke activist managers, who only wield real power because of the property they hold in trust for other people. Thus, the activism of woke corporations and capital is an attempt to establish a managerial oligarchy, in which the people entrusted with regular people’s money use that as leverage to bully and rule regular people. To a great extent, woke capitalism consists of using our money to intimidate our representatives and impose economic sanctions on entire states, from Indiana to Georgia, over everything from election security to religious liberty.
Not an Attack on First Amendment
These uses of corporate economic power for unrelated ideological ends are abuses of the stewardship that corporate and financial managers are entrusted with. Unfortunately, the diffuse and fluctuating nature of our current system of investment capitalism and ownership makes it difficult, if not impossible, for shareholders to hold these managers accountable.
This structural failure is why conservatives (as distinct from to libertarian ideologues) recognize a need for government in restraining these would-be managerial oligarchs. This understanding is not, as some on the right have claimed, an attack on First Amendment rights or property rights. Conservatives know that respecting these rights does not require pretending that publicly traded multinational corporations are the same as privately owned businesses.
Indeed, it is an established legal principle that private companies are entitled to more deference in making First Amendment claims than public corporations are. For example, Hobby Lobby was able to make a successful religious freedom claim because it is a closely owned corporation — basically, a really successful family business.
In contrast, Disney is a publicly traded corporation that is mostly owned by investment firms using money they manage on behalf of a multitude of faceless investors. Such a company is not perpetually entitled to special privileges from the state, especially if its managers are abusing their power to undermine a state’s representative government.
Disney Picked This Fight
Disney’s leaders picked a fight with a popular and competent Republican governor who had enormous leverage over them, at a time when Republican voters were clamoring for someone to stand up to woke corporations. And Disney did so on an issue where the public, even Democrats, was with DeSantis and against Disney. Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law is popular; teaching small children about sexual orientation and gender identity is not.
Nonetheless, the bill was necessary. Although teaching preschoolers about sex and gender identity is generally frowned upon, it is popular with many educators. Just look at Evanston, Ill., an upscale suburban Chicago school district that has “adopted a radical gender curriculum” that “begins in pre-kindergarten, with a series of lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity.” By third grade, students are
told that white European ‘colonizers” imposed their ‘Western and Christian ideological framework’ on racial minorities and ‘forced two-spirit people to conform to the gender binary.’ The teacher tells students that ‘many people feel like they aren’t really a boy or a girl’ and that they should ‘call people by the gender they have in their heart.’ Students are encouraged to ‘break the binary,’ reject the system of ‘whiteness,’ and study photographs of black men in dresses and a man wearing lipstick and long earrings.
This sort of indoctrination is what Florida has prohibited. That Disney was fighting for this, and that it has promised to “queer” its programming with similar themes, shows the depravity of its leadership.
Something is very wrong in Mickey’s house. Unfortunately, our business and financial sectors have developed in ways that make it effectively impossible for those whose money is actually invested in Disney to hold the company’s leadership accountable.
Duty to Protect Kids
Nonetheless, conservatives have a duty to preserve children’s innocence and to protect them from the confusion of gender ideology — confusion that too often ends in chemical and surgical mutilation. Fulfilling this obligation now requires conservatives to distinguish between genuine rights of property and conscience and those falsely claimed by the managerial oligarchy.
It is right and just for conservative officials to revoke special privileges held by companies whose managers attempt to use economic coercion to overrule our representative government. The threat of losing money and influence might bring the would-be oligarchs to heel. After all, we know that Disney executives bow and scrape to China’s communist dictatorship out of greed and fear.
The people running Disney have turned against the ordinary families whose support built the company — and whose investments and retirement accounts provide the money for the financial firms that hold the big stakes in Disney. If Disney’s leaders no longer love regular people, then it is time to make them fear us.
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor to The Federalist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.