JILANI: Conservatives Must Oppose Big Business As Vigorously As They Oppose Big Government

(Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Zaid Jilani Contributor
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Let me put my cards on the table.

I’m a left-leaning guy. I’ve worked for a top progressive think tank, a liberal political action committee and the last campaign I worked for elected a lefty prosecutor by toppling a tough-on-crime incumbent.

You might expect that I’m ecstatic about the results of the recent election. I do hope that the Biden administration and Congress use their newly found power to swiftly vaccinate Americans and rebuild our economy.

But with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, I find myself perturbed because it increasingly feels like I live in a one-party state.

By one-party state, I don’t mean that we literally only have one political party. This isn’t China. Yet it feels like every major institution in the United States – from Corporate America, to academia, to government, to the arts, to the news media – are now socially and culturally liberal.

This overwhelming dominance of our institutions by one political faction leads to groupthink and polarization that is unlike anything I’ve seen in my adult life. And especially in this last election, we’ve seen how this hegemony by the left has resulted in unprecedented displays of raw political power.

Remember back in April 2020 when Facebook banned events that violated social distancing orders? The move was portrayed at the time as a way to bring the company in line with the spirit of stay-at-home orders issued by state governments to deal with COVID-19. The primary target of these bans were the conservative-leaning anti-lockdown protests.

But flash forward a couple months and Facebook made no similar effort to prohibit Black Lives Matter demonstrators from joining some of the largest wave of protests in modern American history. The public health situation and guidelines did not change in the interim; it was clear that Facebook was acting as its own unaccountable governing body, favoring left-wing causes over right-wing ones.

Selective social media enforcement became a sort of theme of last year’s politics – from tech companies suppressing a legitimate story about Hunter Biden’s financial dealings to the selective banning of election conspiracy theories (but you can say just about anything you want about Trump and Russia, it’s no wonder a majority of Democrats believe that Vladmir Putin literally tampered with vote totals in the 2016 election).

Unlike some who come from the political left, I consider conservatives my brothers and sisters. No matter how much I disagree with someone’s political views – even ones based in prejudice or conspiracies – I want them to be able to speak without fear of coercion. I’m a believer in social psychology Gordon Allport’s intergroup contact theory – the way we change minds and soften hearts is through positive contact with people who differ from us, not via censorship and ostracism that often backfires and makes people even more extreme.

Big Tech’s encroachment on American politics challenges the conservative movement’s traditional, libertarian approach to corporate accountability. The standard line is that businesses should be free to operate as they wish; the only institution in American life that suppresses Americans’ freedom is the government. Therefore, conservatives should be vigilant against Big Government, but simply shrug at Big Tech and other corporate actors – that’s just the free market at work.

But with America’s economy increasingly being controlled by a handful of corporate actors who are hostile to conservatives, it is clear that this definition of freedom is inadequate.

It’s not the government that is progressively hemming in the ability of people to freely speak their minds, it’s Silicon Valley – just as it wasn’t the government that flooded America’s working class with cheap and easily available opioids, it was the pharmaceutical industry.

In order to break the one-party state, the conservative movement must take a hard look at its governing philosophy over the past 40 years. It’s not that cutting taxes, deregulating business and reducing the size of government is always the wrong move. Sometimes these bedrock conservative policies are useful to promote economic growth and individual freedom.

Nevertheless, if conservatives continue to feed the mouth that bites them – by shoveling even more profit to Corporate America via tax cuts and deregulation – they will essentially be throwing their own constituents to the wolves.

When businesses grow so powerful that they have near-monopolies, they threaten not just conservatives’ freedom of speech but also their pursuit of prosperity. Conservative families suffer, too, when payday lenders rip off vulnerable people, bloated colleges and universities continue to load students up with government-subsidized debt and the health care-industrial complex preys on the infirm.

It’s time for the conservative movement to recognize that Big Business can be just as harmful to conservative values and conservative constituents as Big Government. Only by embracing an agenda that protects their voters’ freedom from both can they hope to regain their political and cultural footing.

I don’t want to live in a one-party state, where deviance from woke dogmas is grounds for banishment and the corporate and government sectors are essentially governed by the same ideology. We need a politically diverse country. That can only be achieved with a reinvigorated conservative movement that is willing to rethink its own dogmas, particularly around the proper role of government in ensuring fair corporate behavior.

Zaid Jilani is a freelance journalist who has previously worked for UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, The Intercept and the Center for American Progress.