Corporations are standing up and defending our democracy from Republican attacks. But we can’t rely on the goodwill of big business to fix the country’s problems.

georgia voting
Demonstrators stand outside of the Georgia Capitol building on March 3, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Corporations like Delta Airlines and Major League Baseball are pushing back on Georgia's new voting law.
  • But the GOP is hitting back, crying that these business decisions in defense of democracy are "cancel culture."
  • While the actions of big business are encouraging, we can't rely on corporations to solve America's problems.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Major League Baseball took a strong, tangible stand against Georgia's new voting law by moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. More than 100 companies and CEOs, including Delta and Coke - two of the biggest businesses to call Atlanta home - matched this action with their words.

This is not the first time that corporations have needed to step forward to take on Republican policy madness - but it's the latest encapsulation of the sad state of affairs in this country, where companies have a stronger moral compass than our political leaders.

Corporations saving the world

The MLB's move against Georgia will hopefully serve as a shot across the bow for other states looking to make it harder for Black Americans to vote. While conservatives may cry that these decisions, made by private companies, are "cancel culture" on steroids - the GOP is only narrowing their field of play for future elections by declaring more and more of the country "against" them.

This is not the first time that companies have stepped in when Republican policies have stepped out. The most notable example is guns. As mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting has killed our children - Republicans in Washington have put up a bullet-proof roadblock against even common-sense, popular gun safety measures.

While most of America has been appalled by the GOP's crooked interpretation of the Second Amendment, corporations took the matter into their own hands. Dick's, the nation's largest sporting goods retailer, stopped selling firearms at more than 400 of their stores, while Walmart raised the age required to purchase a gun to 21 after the horrific shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

As new states pass draconian laws endangering the health and well-being of trans youth, we're reminded of how corporate pressure can force politicians to change. In 2016, after North Carolina's passage of the so-called "bathroom bill," which barred trans people from using the bathroom of their gender identity, numerous corporations took concrete steps to voice their opposition.

The NBA moved its All-Star Game from Charlotte, and PayPal cancelled a plan to expand into North Carolina. After costing their state nearly $4 billion dollars, Republicans repealed the bill, and the GOP governor lost his bid for re-election even as Donald Trump carried the state.

The alt-right attack on a host of issues including voting rights has been mainstreamed by Fox News and other conservative media - but most of the country still believes the right to vote should be expanded, not curtailed. That's why congenitally cautious corporations can take a moral stand here when they haven't before.

Actions, not words

To have a real impact, more companies need to take action like the MLB and Dick's. Statements are insufficient - and wimpy.

Corporations like Coke could donate to voting rights groups and help register voters, like some companies have done. At the very least, the same Georgia companies that spoke out against this attack on Americans' civil liberties could stop financing the very politicians who put this law into place. Delta has donated more than $25,000 to Gov. Brian Kemp and other Georgia Republicans.

Companies also could choose to move their offices out of states with regressive voting laws or choose not to move there at all. Atlanta has a large entertainment industry that could easily find a home in a state that believes everyone should have easy, secure voting access. Moving to a less oppressive state would serve as a simultaneous economic and moral victory.

The slippery slope

The dramatically escalating national dysfunction led by Washington has brought us to this day. The fact that companies are the new standard bearers for common sense may be powerful today but is concerning long term.

The strength of our polity cannot rely on the moral force of profit. It can be a wakeup call, a force for logic, but it is a cover, not a foundation. Their day job is not to consider the whole. In theory, that responsibility belongs to our electeds. Both teams have failed us, but big business only feels the need to play when the Republicans are at their craziest.

If our leaders continue to falter, it is not sustainable for the basic functions of government to be turned over to corporations, where there is a natural ceiling. So if our politicians are incompetent and our companies are limited, the moment of truth will be when our country faces a crisis that is existential and not just manufactured by the GOP.

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