Corporate America is experiencing a crisis of wokeness. There is a massive disconnect between the board rooms and their consumers, and it is affecting their bottom lines. Despite what you read in many media outlets, most Americans do not believe they are oppressed or that our country is a bad place. They want to laugh at funny jokes, enjoy time with their families, and generally live their lives joyfully.
Disney has provided the latest case study, as the most pronounced failure to navigate today’s political-cultural environment. CEO Bob Chapek first declined to weigh in on a political issue, Florida’s parental rights law, which was written to prevent classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for kindergartners through third graders.
Then a very loud minority of his employees complained, so he reversed course and said the company would seek to have the law repealed. That triggered parents across the country to denounce Disney, and Florida’s state government to pass another law revoking Disney’s special status in Florida as a self-governing improvement district. Since declaring its fealty to the leftist woke mob, Disney’s stock has fallen by approximately 20 percent and its market cap has shrunk by tens of billions of dollars.
This is not the first time this has happened to major entities in the past year. Delta Airlines and Major League Baseball adopted absurd political positions after Georgia passed a new voting law that is less stringent than those of most states. It chose to side with the woke mob over common sense by essentially declaring, without any basis whatsoever, that Georgia’s voting laws are racist. MLB even moved its All-Star game out of Atlanta over the issue, thereby taking business away from thousands of black-owned enterprises and families and leaving a trail of resentment in its wake.
These incidents were entirely preventable failures of leadership. The good news is that there is an answer for the many CEOs now, finally, asking the very sensible question: how do we prevent ourselves from becoming the next Disney?
1. Never Bow to the Mob
Strong leaders maintain the courage of their convictions, and people respect them. Chapek’s initial instinct to stay out of the fray was the right one.
Politicians routinely criticize their opponents for being “flip-floppers” because it calls into question their credibility. Chapek flip-flopped in a humiliating fashion. He not only made a U-turn on the company’s policy, he issued a shameful and completely unbelievable apology that led shareholders, customers, and any other interested parties to think that this man will say anything to try to end a controversy.
Furthermore, the mob will never, ever be satisfied. Bowing to the mob never ends with the mob saying thank you and going on their way. It is always “only a first step,” after which point they will continue to demand fealty in perpetuity.
Conversely, if you don’t give in, they will eventually move on to another weaker target because they can only sustain a pressure campaign for a limited period of time. Readers eventually move on to some other outrage of the day.
Hold fast in your determination to maintain your role and defend your values. Reach out to those who agree with you. Build a coalition of support and a steady drumbeat of public content about that support. There are millions upon millions of Americans who will join your side against the mob, and you will find strength in their resolve as well.
2. Stop Bribing People Who Hate You
As part of Chapek’s embarrassing and weak apology effort, he pledged $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign, an impossibly liberal and radical organization that exists to elect Democrats and purports to support LGTBQ people, but wages war against LGTBQ people who dare to think for themselves and hold any conservative values.
Dovetailing with point number one, they will never be satisfied. What was HRC’s response to Disney’s donation? They rejected it, publicly scolded Disney, and demanded this be only the beginning of Disney’s advocacy efforts in line with their views. Once Disney has proven their obedience sufficiently, only then will HRC accept the millions of dollars, and undoubtedly demand millions more.
Similarly, many of the nation’s largest corporations donated to Black Lives Matter since 2020 to show how virtuous they were. Meanwhile, BLM exists to advance radical Marxist policies and would gladly put their corporate donors in gulags. It has since been indicated that BLM’s money went to purchase numerous multi-million-dollar mansions for its founders — not to advance any sort of social justice agenda. Moreover, some of those funds have been used to bail violent criminals out of jail after committing horrific crimes.
Just please, for the love of all that is holy, stop funding organizations that hate you. The murderous Russian communist Vladimir Lenin famously quipped, “We will sell the capitalist nations the rope with which they will hang themselves.” Stop falling for extortion at the hands of crybullies.
3. Trust Your Instincts
Trust your instincts. Be very skeptical of polls. Mark Twain attributed to British Prime Minister Bejamin Disraeli the famous quip about three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. There are perhaps no more manipulated data than polls. Notice the difference between polls designed to shape public opinion versus those that reflect public opinion.
Remember that even the most sophisticated polls got the 2016 election wrong, and several were very far off from the actual results in 2020. Just before the election, Reuters Ipsos claimed that Biden led by 10 points among likely voters. In the election, the difference was only about 4 points. That’s a 6-point difference — which is twice the margin of error of most polls. It’s not just outside the margin, it’s double.
It is very easy to shift a poll with the population sampled and how questions are phrased, just to name a couple of factors. Not to pick on Reuters gratuitously, because there are many offenders, but take another recent Reuters Ipsos poll.
In response to Disney’s controversy in Florida, it found that most Americans do not support “punishing” companies for their political views, a reference to Florida attempting to eliminate Disney’s special governance district status. That was the headline in nearly all of the coverage. Notice the charged word chosen — “punishing.” One might query whether a company should have a self-governing status independent from its state and local government to begin with, rather than support or oppose “punishing” a company.
One might also focus on another portion of the same poll, which found that most Americans support Florida’s law removing sexual orientation and gender identity from early childhood education. But that’s not where the advocates and media went — they framed an issue in a way that would protect the liberal agenda. Be wary of this sort of sleight of hand because it does not reflect actual public opinion — it is designed to shape public opinion.
As surely most parents would agree, discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity with 5-year-olds is not even close to appropriate. Trust that instinct. Trust the instincts of your consumers over the vocal minority and sham polling data.
If, as the saying goes, the customer is always right, surely your whiny employees must be wrong sometimes. To attach another famous quip to this notion, as Michael Jordan once famously said, “Republicans buy sneakers too,” so perhaps consider that your audience may not agree with your woke employees, even if they are not quite as vocal.
4. Be Kind and Support Families
This point also dovetails with the previous one. Do you know what Americans love more than companies pretending to be virtuous? Their families. They love their children and want to protect them. They want to see their families reflected in popular culture.
Major League Baseball is an institution for parents to bring their children out to the ballgame. It is not a social justice warrior organization, nor should it be. Its decision to remove the All-Star game from Atlanta for political purposes tainted the game and angered at least half the fans. It injected divisive racial huckster politics into a family atmosphere, and it was incredibly harmful.
With regard to Disney, its new-found desire to placate a radical left political movement has likewise tainted a family-friendly brand and angered many in its core audience: families. According to Gallup, less than 1 percent of American adults are married LGTBQ people. While of course they are deserving of rights, representation, kindness, and love, portraying same-sex families as appearing literally everywhere simply does not speak to most families, and it is not reflective of reality.
Perhaps more importantly, families do not take their children to Disney World to engage in political debate. They take them there to have fun. Disney should support that goal.
Be kind. Be tolerant. Be inclusive. Do not browbeat or preach about inclusiveness and tolerance.
5. Support America
Americans love America. There is a reason every touring artist goes to a city and does the typical “Hello Cleveland” routine, and everyone cheers. People want to be proud of where they are from. They do not hate where they are from.
The 1619 Project, BLM, and purveyors of critical race theory perpetuate a view that America is rotten to its core. It is not only false, but it is also contrary to what patriotic Americans believe. They don’t take kindly to such aspersions cast on their country, which has served as a beacon and defender of freedom for generations. Be patriotic, and patriots will respond to you favorably.
Follow these guidelines, and you will not only be stronger and happier, but you will also be more likely to avoid becoming the next Disney.
Brian Morgenstern is the owner of Win the Future Strategies, LLC, a boutique public affairs and government relations firm in Washington, D.C. He served as White House deputy press secretary and deputy assistant secretary of the treasury in the Trump Administration.