John Daniel Davidson
Since the NBA-China affair blew up last weekend, a number of commentators have lambasted the NBA for its craven response to China, noting the hypocrisy of a league that publicly prides itself on being the social vanguard in America but has no problem kowtowing to Chinese autocrats to maintain access to their lucrative markets.
The argument goes like this: there’s a massive disconnect between the values the NBA espouses and its willingness, say, to look the other way in China, where the league runs a training program not far from where Uighur Muslims are forcibly sent to reeducation camps. The NBA’s pursuit of filthy lucre, in this view, undermines its carefully crafted public image. As my colleague David Marcus quipped, “After all, what’s a concentration camp or two if there is money to be made?”
National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty extends this critique to global corporations in general, arguing that the entire purpose of woke capitalism is “to curry favor with the political class and receive a moral indulgence for their rank profiteering.” The New York Times’ Bari Weiss, citing Alibaba co-founder and New Jersey Nets owner Joe Tsai’s long Facebook post calling the pro-democracy Hong Kong protests a “separatist movement,” wondered “how an American league that prides itself on promoting progressive values squares those values with allowing an apologist for authoritarianism to own one of its teams.”
But is there really such a conflict between progressive values and authoritarianism? Arguably, wokeness is itself fundamentally authoritarian. How many of the most politically correct people on the left in America would be happy to use government power to compel speech, silence those with opposing views, or ruin the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people who don’t share their political values?
We all know the answer because it’s been playing out before our eyes. We all know what happened to Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who declined to make a custom wedding cake for a gay couple and, having been vindicated before the U.S. Supreme Court, still faces ongoing persecution and legal battles. We know what happens to wedding florists, photographers, even the owners of a small-town pizza shop who refused to toe the left’s line.
So far from being in conflict with progressive values, coercion is native to the left. China has reeducation camps for Muslims who don’t embrace communism. It’s not hard to imagine leftists in America supporting reeducation camps for Christians who don’t embrace gay marriage or transgenderism. Coercive force, even government force, is perfectly fine to them if it’s used in service of the left’s agenda.
Coercion Comes Naturally to the Far-Left
We see signs of this everywhere. Today it’s commonplace for left-wing college students to shout down or even physically threaten conservative speakers and students on the pretext that “hate speech” can’t be tolerated, and even that it justifies violence. Two years ago at Middlebury College, a student mob physically attacked speaker Charles Murray and a faculty member after forcibly shutting down a planned speech by Murray. Does anyone think these students would balk at having the police forcibly shut down speaking events they opposed on ideological grounds?
This isn’t just a campus phenomenon. Violent extremist groups like Antifa are often seen clashing with police, but does anyone doubt that if masked Antifa demonstrators could wield police powers, they would hesitate to use force to silence dissent?
We don’t have to imagine hypotheticals because examples of leftist coercion are all around us. Consider the firing of a Virginia high school teacher last year for refusing, on religious grounds, to use a transgender student’s preferred pronoun. The teacher, Peter Vlaming, even tried to compromise, promising to use only the student’s name and avoid pronouns altogether, but it wasn’t enough. School administrators told Vlaming either to use the pronoun the transgender student wanted or face consequences. Eventually the school board fired him.
This dynamic is now playing out on the world stage as support for the Hong Kong protests draws in a growing number of industries and companies with business ties to China. What happened to Vlaming, for example, is no different than what happened this week to a professional Hong Kong-based gamer named Chung Ng Wai.
Chung, a professional Hearthstone player, expressed support for Hong Kong during a live broadcast after winning a tournament. The maker of the game, Activision Blizzard, one of America’s biggest gaming companies, suspended Chung and forced him to forfeit a reported $10,000 in prize money. The company also summarily fired the commentators who conducted the interview.
William F. Buckley once said, “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” That might have been true once of old-fashioned liberals, but today’s leftists don’t even pretend to want to give a hearing to other views. Having other views just makes you a target for intimidation and coercion, maybe even violence. Say the wrong words and we’ll take away your livelihood.
No wonder the most politically correct corporations in America are the first to placate Chinese authoritarians. China just demonstrates what happens when woke corporations have the power of the state behind them.