What Happened to Free Enterprise?

TL;DR: conservatives and Republicans should try actually governing while they still have seats in Congress with which to do so, instead of wasting time on culture-war posturing in the middle of a pandemic to distract from their repeated votes against economic stimulus and minimum wage increases that would actually help their constituents by putting money in the hands of American workers.

What happened to the long-running conservative love affair with free enterprise lately? Conservatives used to defend businesses whose owners refused to serve black customers, bake cakes for gay weddings, or sell books they considered “immoral”. But apparently it’s not OK for Amazon to stop selling a book attacking “transgender ideology”?

I’m asking a serious question here. “Free enterprise”, aka letting business owners do whatever they like, used to be a fundamental principle of conservatism in the US. It used to be an article of faith, right up there with the (mistaken) belief that the US is a Christian nation and the (equally mistaken) belief that America is what the rest of the world wants to be when it grows up. Conservative belief in “free enterprise” is why we have the FAANG cartel (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google) in the tech industry. It’s why we have Disney when we used to have an actual entertainment industry. It’s also why you can have three different rock radio stations in your area that all have the same playlist.

Thanks for nothing, Republicans. If letting megacorporations run amok is your idea of free enterprise, you godless reds deserve the consequences and I hope you damned well choke on them.

credit: Austin Daily Herald (2019)

However, between repeated grillings by congressional Republicans of Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg, the CEOs of the social media corporations that have done for conservatism in the 2010s what the late and undeservedly lamented Rush Limbaugh did on AM talk radio in the 1990s, Amazon Web Services refusing to host Parler, and the latest furor over Amazon refusing to continue selling When Henry Became Sally, a book criticizing “transgender ideology”, it seems time to ask why Republicans are suddenly so concerned about how private citizens run their businesses. Is this just posturing to distract ordinary Americans from congressional Republicans’ repeated refusal to vote for economic stimulus or a long-overdue Federal minimum wage increase? I suspect it is, because Republicans only want one thing, and it’s fucking disgusting.

Let’s make a few things clear, though:

  1. I’m OK with regulating corporations like Amazon to within an inch of their lives. Congress has the authority to do so under the Commerce Clause since Amazon operates across state lines.
  2. I’m equally OK with doing to the FAANG cartel what we did to Standard Oil, AT&T, and many other corporations. Hell, we ought to break up AT&T again since they don’t seem to have learned their lesson from last time.
  3. I’m also OK with the Federal government leaving small businesses that do not cross state lines alone and leaving the regulation of such businesses to the states under the Tenth Amendment.
  4. I don’t really give a shit about transgender people one way or the other. As Thomas Jefferson is reputed to have written: “If it does not break my leg or pick my pocket, what business is it of mine?”
  5. Because I don’t give a shit about transgender people in general, I address trans people by their preferred names and pronouns because it’s less hassle that way. It’s not my job to police your body or your identity.

That said, I don’t believe for a second that if Amazon refused to sell a book advocating masturbation, recreational sex, legalized sex work, and pornography called I’m a Sodomite and I’m OK the Republicans would object or accuse Amazon of censorship. Instead, they would probably praise Amazon for upholding “standards of decency”.

However, I would strongly caution Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Lee (R-UT), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Josh Hawley (R-MO) about the precedents they seek to set, because forcing Amazon to sell books that appeal to conservatives can also be used to force Amazon to sell books unfriendly to conservative ideology. Hawley in particular should know better than to think that “liberal” big businesses control everything; when Simon & Schuster cancelled his book it was Regnery that stepped up to offer a publication deal.

Instead of trying to force Amazon and the rest of the FAANG cartel to kowtow to conservative interests, conservatives would do better to do everything in their power to help make big business irrelevant. Admittedly, this would go against the habit of decades, but it would be more in line with the rest of their stated ideals. Letting a few megacorporations have the lion’s share of American commerce does not serve the cause of local control or help small business.

Nobody would care if Buckley’s Books of Intercourse, PA sold nothing but books published by conservative-friendly houses such as Regnery and Baen—even by mail order—as long as Buckley’s didn’t hold a monopoly. But because it’s Amazon deciding which books it will or will not stock, everybody’s losing their minds? It would seem that the obvious solution is to break out the century’s worth of antitrust statute and precedent that progressive Republicans led by Theodore Roosevelt started and start reclaiming the old GOP legacy as a party of progress.

In any case, it’s not like people can’t buy When Harry Became Sally directly from the publisher. Encounter Books has its own internet storefront, as does Regnery Publishing and many others.

The real question is whether modern Republicans have the backbone to stand up for a higher principle than power by any means or profit über alles. If so, they can start by supporting efforts by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to prosecute Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and Google under the relevant Federal antitrust laws—starting with the Sherman and Clayton Acts—and put their influence behind breaking up the megacorporations that have come to dominate commerce in the US and abroad.

Memo to Republicans: stop crybullying about censorship when you’re fine with it as long as it’s artists you don’t like getting censored. Remember Robert Mappelthorpe and the PMRC? Remember Bob Dole condemning movies he had not seen as “nightmares of depravity”? Remember Ed Meese and Phyllis Schafly? Likewise with cancel culture. Remember the Dixie Chicks? I do, and I haven’t forgiven the Republicans their censoriousness any more than I’ve forgiven that asshole Tipper Gore. You’ve got more pressing concerns than “transgender ideology”, because conservative ideas are becoming increasingly and deservedly unwelcome as people realize the full extent of your moral and intellectual bankruptcy.

In fact, stop posturing about censorship in the middle of a pandemic when you’ve repeatedly voted as a party against approporiations bills that would put money in the hands of ordinary Americans and help them weather a plague that has been ravaging the country for a year thanks in large part to your utter refusal to govern. There are reasons that conservative ideas are no longer welcome. If you need help finding them, start by ducking into the men’s room and looking at a fucking mirror.

The fundamental tenet of conservatism is that existing traditions and institutions are somehow inherently deserving of preservation, that profitable enterprises deserve to remain profitable, and that any change—no matter how trivial—must somehow be justified. That’s not how reality works. In the real world, change is inevitable and it is the preservation of traditions and institutions that must be justified.

Conservatives need to accept that the world is going to move on with or without them. Transgender and bisexual people today are where gay and lesbian people were in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They are going to keep demanding the acceptance that is their rightful due, and if conservatives can’t accept that then nobody will mourn their exile from the mainstream.

Demography is destiny, and the gulags that await American conservatives are already built, in operation, and run for profit by private corporations. We just call them “nursing homes”.

person holding a stress ball
A Baby Boomer in the conservatives’ gulag. Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

I will happily dance on conservatism’s grave. And my urination upon it will be the only libation this misbegotten movement of apologists for tyranny deserves.