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Republican nihilism on display in the war on ESG

Twenty-five years ago, Bunny Lebowski warned the Dude, “Uli doesn’t care about anything. He’s a nihilist.” The Dude, unruffled as ever, responded, “That must be exhausting.”

Two and a half decades later, more and more right-wing pundits have emerged as nihilists, pushing culture wars and conspiracies without ever espousing values or morals of their own. And, it’s clear that the American people have grown exhausted dealing with them.

The latest example of right-wing nihilism is the MAGA obsession with ESG investments (those informed by environmental, social and governance issues) and “woke capitalism.” These MAGA Republicans are doing the bidding a narrow group of special interest polluters who want to restrict how Americans invest.

As hard as Republicans are trying here to drum up fervor among their base, they can’t seem to make it happen. In a new national survey, a plurality of people — and over a third of Republicans — have not heard enough to say what they think about “woke investing” and “woke capitalism.” In addition, a USA Today survey found that 56 percent of people identify the term “woke” positively (meaning “to be informed, educated on and aware of social injustices”), while only 39 percent define it negatively (meaning “to be overly politically correct and police others’ words”).

Still, progressive messengers shouldn’t take this assault on responsible investing lying down. While the debate about so-called “woke capitalism” doesn’t present a threat for Democrats, it presents an unmissable opportunity to put Republicans in a bind, reveal the nihilism they’re posing and expose their agenda as fueled by special interest polluters.

There are three key steps Democrats should take to reframe this issue and expand our coalition in this evolving debate over ESG investing — while attitudes about this are still nascent and open to influence.

First, stop taking the bait. This isn’t a debate about “woke capitalism” or “woke investing”; those are purely Republican terms. While the term “woke capitalism” is underwater (19 percent to 39 percent), the concept they’re talking about is perfectly familiar. Americans strongly favor a “freedom to invest,” which has remarkably high levels of public support, 68 percent favorable and 7 percent unfavorable in that same national survey. When people don’t have the freedom to invest, it actually costs investors, especially pensioners, money.

Democrats must seize this opportunity to frame the conversation around people’s freedom to invest in companies that they want to support, companies that will maximize their returns and that share their values. This has nothing to do with being “woke” or overly politically correct. It has everything to do with giving people the freedom — and the information — to invest their money where and how they want.

It’s our right to make decisions about our investments with transparent information about environmental risks. Unfortunately, MAGA, the nihilists and the special interest polluters who back them want to take it away.

Second, we need to expose MAGA markets (#MAGAMarkets) for what they are. The right wing isn’t just opposed to the American people having the freedom to invest as they see fit; they’re trying to enforce their extreme ideology by threatening and even punishing American businesses that won’t promote the extreme MAGA views.

The latest example comes from a coalition of Republican state attorneys general who successfully coerced Walgreens to stop selling abortion medication. We also see it in Congress, where the Republican majority is trying to prohibit pension plans from investing in the fastest-growing industry in America: clean energy. Or just look at what happened in Florida, where extreme politicians pushed through a bill to punish Disney World for opposing the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

These extreme politicians pushing MAGA markets and penalizing companies that don’t carry out a right-wing agenda are the real danger.

Once upon a time, the Republican party put free markets at the top of its agenda. That view has been supplanted by these crusaders for right-wing control. Democrats need to expose this blatant market manipulation for what it is: a rejection of American free markets.

Third, Democrats and American businesses have a common backer in this cause: consumers.  Businesses aren’t interested in environmentally responsible investing because they’ve suddenly “become woke” or “liberal” or anything like that. They’ve become interested in this type of investing because it protects the return on their investment and it’s what their consumers want to see them do. And, for Democrats, those consumers are our voters.

The American business community is starting to step up to defend itself against this latest Republican obsession. Democrats have the opportunity here to join forces with business leaders to defend Americans’ freedom to invest and to oppose top-down MAGA ideological demands.

Republican and right-wing media obsession with “anti-wokeness” is clearly driving clicks on their donation pages, “likes” on their Twitter accounts and eyeballs on their cable news segments.

But everyone else can see this for what it really is.

The right wing doesn’t have a coherent, positive plan or agenda. They’re nihilists grasping for anything that will give them more power.

Next time you hear a pundit or prognosticator spewing vitriol about “woke capitalism,” channel your inner Dude and tell them, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Jesse Ferguson is a veteran Democratic strategist, consultant, and specialist in political marketing.

Tags anti-WOKE environmental investing ESG ESG funds ESG investors ESG reporting free markets freedom Impact investing investing investing in renewables MAGA Republicans markets right-wing ideology Right-wing politics Right-wing politics in the United States Socially responsible investing woke

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