Woke capital is winning the left

9 September 2020

10:35 AM

9 September 2020

10:35 AM

Cockburn attempted to celebrate Labor Day by doing no work whatsoever, and he would have succeeded if his friends hadn’t rudely sent him this astonishing Politico piece about a rising source of tension within the vast anti-Trump coalition.

Progressives have been calling on Biden to take a hard line in filling out his cabinet, with groups such as Justice Democrats and Sunrise Movement demanding that he pledge to appoint ‘zero’ current or former Wall Street executives or corporate lobbyists to his administration.

But Black Democrats on Capitol Hill and K Street say that’s in direct conflict with the party’s overarching diversity goals and would keep many people of color, including those with ties to the financial world, from ascending to key positions long dominated by white males.

In 2020, it has become routine to see articles and headlines that would have been confined to satire just a few short years ago. But even then, Politico’s write-up is shockingly on-the-nose.

Much has been said about the rise of ‘woke capital’ in America. As the Democratic party and cultural elites have lurched left on cultural issues, corporate America has lurched along with them. America’s ‘reckoning with racial injustice’ in the past three months was enthusiastically endorsed by major corporations, often even as their physical outlets were plundered by the ‘mostly peaceful’ activists on the street. Professional sports, a domain American conservatives long complacently saw as implicitly apolitical, has become an unwatchable torrent of woke politics in the past three months.

But this shift is not a unilateral move. As capital aligns with the cultural left, it is now extracting its concessions. In return for helping turn Donald Trump out of office, Wall Street wants to make sure that the progressive revolution remains a purely cultural one.

America has been growing more unequal for decades; the coronavirus took that rising inequality and sent it roaring into the stratosphere like one of Elon Musk’s fancy new rockets. The losers of America’s growing economic divide are becoming poorer, less secure and are living shorter lives. Major economic actors increasingly have a global outlook, untethering their leaders from any sense that they share a country, or a society, with the people beneath them.

Wall Street’s gamble is that America will accept this, if their new patrician class at least looks like the cast of a 90s after-school cartoon special : ‘Hey, sorry your business was destroyed by lockdowns and you might lose your house, but look, this Goldman Sachs executive just became the first Latinx Treasury Secretary since Alexander Hamilton! And have you seen the Black Girl Magic of the new Fed appointee?’

In the past, Wall Street had to defend its status with difficult arguments about innovation, ‘earned’ wealth, and overall economic health. Now, they have a much easier path: just call the opposition racist. Many lifelong progressives are making the rude discovery that, while they thought they were fighting to undermine plutocracy and promote egalitarianism, they were actually spending their lives on a white supremacist project to keep ‘overlooked communities’ from ‘break[ing] new ground in government’, as Politico puts it.

It’s a sign of ideological decay on the left that this ploy seems to be working. Enlightenment universalism has given way to tribalism and to Lenin’s shorthand: who will overtake whom? For the new left, does the actual policy matter less than the skin color of the one choosing it?

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