Empty corporate virtue signaling is out of control.

markus spiske mz5i5in8zxe unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Sometime between Occupy Wall Street and Donald Trump, between COVID-19 and the shocking murder of George Floyd, progressivism accidentally sold out to corporate America.

It happened like the formation of the topography of the Earth; by degrees and all at once, driven by volatile forces powerful and inexorable enough to forge enormous mountain ranges and grind them into dust.

Who can blame progressives? It’s been the best of times and the worst of times to be a Democrat over the past five years, a far cry from the relatively halcyon days of the Obama Administration. And it wasn’t so much that progressives sold out to corporations, exactly; it was more like progressives engaged in a hostile takeover of corporate America from the inside, and kind of succeeded.

Kind of.

Advertising commercials are showing much more diversity these days, attempts are being made to make what is inside the television set look more like what is outside it. So too the people producing commercials. There are diversity boards and antiracism training programs galore. Major corporations like Gillette are calling out things like toxic masculinity.

And yet.

And yet the wealth gap has grown wider than ever over the past two years in particular. At the same time, this corporate wealth has not trickled down to drench the freight drivers, retail workers, and support staff.

The average small business owner is on the brink of closing. The big guys did great switching to an online business model. Jeff Bezos was so happy he celebrated by going to space.

The same companies loudly signaling adherence to progressive causes- in their commercials- are still engaging in the same questionable labor practices they have long used to prevent unionization, keep pay low, and benefits to a bare minimum.

They are still producing single-use plastics like there’s no tomorrow, and that’s just for starters on the environmental front.

The same corporations yelling loudest into the headwinds of social justice- in their commercials- are also the same ones responsible for gutting American manufacturing over the past few decades. They sold progressives- and plenty of conservatives, too- on globalism, which sounded nice to a bunch of aspiring “citizens of the world.”

What those crafty companies were really doing, it is clear now in retrospect, was moving their operations to emerging nations with fewer environmental regulations and lower labor standards. In saving so much on manufacturing- on things like paying a livable wage, safe workplaces, and onerous environmental rules about waste disposal- these companies made a mint.

For their trouble, progressive fans of globalism also now have a 10,000 mile petroleum-fueled supply chain that isn’t currently working.

Progressives used to think of corporations as annoying conglomerates buying up all the best organic brands, then systematically eroding quality standards in the name of “improving efficiency”- but really just selling an inferior product for the same price in order to make a bigger profit.

At best.

At worst, most multinational corporations were considered by card-carrying progressives to be the root of all evil- machines built to perpetuate and increase the wealth gap while killing the planet in the name of profitability.

Who knew that all these corporations had to do to win a legion of idealistic progressive fans was to shift marketing strategies?

“Combating climate change”, “confronting toxic masculinity”, “anti-racism” , and “promoting equity”, as advertising ploys, got corporations much further with audiences of potential customers much faster than old ad strategies.

That the makers of disposable razors would and did promote toxic masculinity to sell their products, when that is what the market responded to, is a fact too often lost on progressives.

A good commercial isn’t a PSA; it isn’t intended to be. Corporate virtue signaling is a shameless ploy to make consumers feel good about themselves for buying a company’s products; without that company having to do anything about manufacturing only in countries with low-labor standards or being the largest producer of single-use plastics in the history of the world.

Consumers taken in by this ploy don’t have to do anything more taxing than buy a product, either; a product which was very probably something they wanted or needed anyway.

It is a win-win; except for progressivism, which is suffering mightily for being taken in by this transparent corporate boondoggle.

Jumping on the progressive bandwagon may have seemed like a good ad strategy, but unless corporations using it are really ready to put their stock options where their marketing department mouthpieces are, it is making a mockery of everything for which progressives claim to stand.

Empty corporate virtue signaling may make wealthy corporations more wealthy in the short term. Meanwhile, it is degrading the progressive brand into the ground.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)