This article was originally published in The Spectator’s May 2021 World edition. 

Ron DeSantis was smeared by the media. He was never going to take it lying down. When 60 Minutes aired a laughably dishonest report implying he’d operated a pay-for-play vaccine distribution scheme in Florida, America’s most pugnacious governor fired back. The ‘smear merchants’ at CBS News were pushing ‘horse manure,’ he said. ‘That’s why nobody trusts corporate media. They are a disaster in what they are doing.’

That a major news outlet blatantly lied about a conservative governor isn’t surprising. Far more interesting is DeSantis’s choice of words there: ‘corporate media’. A departure, that. Republicans have long assailed the ‘mainstream media’, the ‘legacy media’, in the ever-delicate words of Sean Hannity, the ‘latte-sipping, loony, left-wing, liberal media’. Yet to call out these businesses specifically because they’re corporate would seem to infringe on the right’s economic principles. Conservatives have long held that business is superior to government, markets are more humane than central planning. A great dividing line blazes between the private and public sectors — the former is innovative and voluntary, the latter gluttonous and coercive.

Yet now DeSantis is not only pointing out that 60 Minutes slants to the left but stressing its corporate ownership. It’s a small thing, to be sure, but it hints at an ongoing shift. As the left consolidates power, as big business kowtows to woke diktats, conservatives have become more sensitive to the excesses of capital. These days, the dividing line cuts less between private and public than big and small, juggernaut cultural enforcers like CBS owner Viacom and the little guys on the receiving end of their radical agenda. More than a few major corporations are entrenched in that first camp.

In the last month alone, YouTube has censored a discussion between health officials in Florida because some of them questioned the efficacy of wearing masks. Major League Baseball moved its All-Star game out of Georgia over a dishonest reading of that state’s new election law (Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola also denounced the statute). Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill banning gender-reassignment surgeries and puberty blockers for minors after allegedly being pressured by Walmart. And more than 100 corporate leaders convened virtually to discuss how to stop states from ratifying more laws like the one in Georgia.

All this has soured many conservatives on corporate America. It’s also created a tension on the right which is both very real and somewhat exaggerated. The exaggeration comes courtesy of some right-wing populists, who have seized on anti-corporate sentiment to claim that a seismic realignment is underway, that pro-business Reaganites are on their way out of the GOP. But conservatives on the whole are still staunchly pro-capitalist and anti-state. And those old-school Reagan-lovers were hardly remiss in trashing corporations themselves: Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center has been calling CBS News pink since the 1980s, its geography in the private sector be damned.

What’s different this time around isn’t the ideology but the circumstances. However one might regard corporate America generally, the fact is that these businesses aren’t behaving like corporations. By agglomerating their power, by censoring their customers and applying pressure on behalf of woke causes, they’re functioning more like a shadow state. Their sheer size, coupled with the outsize role money plays in politics, has allowed them to exercise undue influence over the actual government, effectively marginalizing those who don’t subscribe to the woke agenda and who don’t have millions to spend on access. Such people need representation and political champions — that’s the thinking on the right at the moment. And that’s the real reason for the shift to suspicion of corporations, not some dramatic repudiation of Milton Friedman.

The question, then, is what conservatives do now. One proposed solution is to dust off America’s antitrust machinery, to start breaking up these corporate behemoths. And certainly there’s a case to be made that, say, Google has grown so massive as to be anticompetitive. But antitrust action won’t solve the problem at hand. Break up Google and you’ve got…two Googles, both as woke as the first one was. The issue isn’t that these companies aren’t competitive and innovative — Silicon Valley does nothing if not creatively destroy — but that they’re acting as agents of bad cultural change.

More promising is the ‘Red State Alliance’ recently proposed by conservative thinker Matthew Peterson. This would see Republican states band together to push back collectively when woke corporations throw their weight around. This is classic culture-war thinking: leverage the institutions controlled by your side against those controlled by your adversaries. The problem is that even politically similar states tend to be in economic competition with each other, for new jobs and new startups and new investments. In order for such an alliance to work, cultural solidarity would have to outweigh economic interest. And given that voters are more often motivated by the latter, that would prove a difficult challenge.

Still, the operative idea is a good one. If woke capitalism is to be stopped, businesses need to be disincentivized against it. To that end, the most effective tool in the conservative arsenal is probably the good old-fashioned boycott: turn the left’s tactics around on it. Isolate and pressure these businesses. There is precedent here. When France declined to support the war in Iraq back in 2003, conservatives launched a boycott of French wines, and French businessmen later admitted that their sales had taken a dent. And while research suggests boycotts tend to damage a company’s reputation more than its revenue, in today’s flashbulb online world, nothing is more important than public image.

The trick to any pressure campaign will be to sustain it in the long run, to make sure companies can’t wait it out until the news cycle dashes on to its next shiny object. Fortunately there is precedent here too. When Hasbro announced it was going to make Mr and Mrs Potato Head gender-neutral, it kicked up a wave of fury, and not long afterwards, it sent a tweet clarifying that the spuds would remain sexed after all. It was a small win, but those matter in a culture war. We shall fight in the toy-store aisles and the Mulberry Streets and the midscale Florida grocery stores. And so forth. The point is that conservative public pressure can make a difference, even against a corporate giant.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s May 2021 World edition.