Vivek Ramaswamy on Battling Corporate Wokeism

2 Sep 2021

CLAY: We are going to be joined here in a moment by Vivek Ramaswamy, who has done a great job with his most recent book, Woke, Inc., which debuted at #2 overall on the New York Times best-seller list. And I believe we have Vivek on with us now, and I appreciate you making the time. Vivek, I want to start with this. I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the Joe Rogan controversy and also the controversies out there surrounding Candace Owens. But she requested a covid test, and the company refused service to her, which is I think one of the trend lines that we’re seeing with woke corporations deciding whether or not to give medical treatment they either agree or disagree with. How big of a trend do you think this is becoming and where did it start?

RAMASWAMY: Yeah, look, Clay, I think it’s becoming rampant. It’s everywhere across America. It’s ubiquitous. That’s part of why I wrote the book, and I think it needs to be called out because the origin story wasn’t even earthed on either side. It didn’t begin with politics. It began with self-interest. That was the 2008 financial crisis, where after the ’08 financial crisis, corporations were the bad guys.

They were the guys that the old left wanted to take money from and redistribute it to the poor people for the benefit of poor people. Agree or not, that’s what the old left wanted to say. But there was this newly emergent identity politics focus left — what we think of as the new, woke, progressive left — that actually says the real problem wasn’t economic injustice. It was poverty. It was actually racial injustice and misogyny and bigotry.

And that presented the opportunity of a generation for big business in this country to say that, “Okay. If we can pitch ourselves to that part of the left, then we can put the old left up for adoption,” and so you had a bunch of woke millennials that get in bed with a bunch of big banks. Together, they brought woke capitalism, and they put Occupy Wall Street up for adoption. But this is the other side of that trade.

Where anyone who defects that woke orthodoxy will have economic muscle and economic power leveraged against them, increasingly to be banished from civil society itself. And part of the reason why I wrote the book, I have some pretty clear ideas of solutions we can use from a policy perspective and a culture of perspective to get our way out of that cultural quagmire, that we’re in today.

BUCK: Hi, Vivek, it’s Buck. We got an audience here that’s very activated and wants to take action on things like this. So we’ll certainly get to that with you in a second. For more background on this — and I know you did a lot of research on it for the book, and congrats on how well it’s doing. In general… I know there’s going to be specifics here and there. There are people who will say, “Get woke, go broke,” and then there’s people who say, “Actually, this works very well.”

Meaning that progressive policies in the short-term, help the bottom line of some of these major companies whether it’s Google or Disney or Coca-Cola or whomever. What do you find on balance is more true? Is this financially incentivized for them in the beginning to have these very progressive and exclusionary — for conservatives and people who believe in traditional values — politics or are they suffering, and there therefore is some kind of a mechanism built-in for correction?

RAMASWAMY: So that’s a great question. I got about 75/25. I get about 75% of the cases, companies are doing what they perceive to be in their self-interest. Now, whether or not it is in their self-interest, time will tell. And I think that 75% number is actually going to be lower, the number of companies discover that they’re leaving a lot of market share on the table by failing to service conservative audiences — or even just not apolitical audiences may be turned off by this stuff.

I think Nike may find themselves in that category. I think Coca-Cola may find themselves in that category. But that, time will tell. However, I do think that in the majority of cases, you actually have companies that think they are doing the things that better empowers them to ultimately make a buck in the future. I think the other 25% is in a different category, where they’re actually pursuing these values authentically.

And I think one of the things I discovered over writing the book is if I had to pick… I began the book taking aim at the hypocritical, scammy kind of woke capitalism, where people are using the appearance of caring about things other than profit and power, precisely to gain things like profit and power. But actually, the thing I have learned, personally, is that I’m even more frightened by the people who would their market power authentically to force their values down the throats of the American people.

I put Jack Dorsey in this category, where the guy doesn’t need another dollar. He doesn’t care if he makes another dollar. He has tens of billions of dollars. But the rate limiter for his power in society isn’t the amount of dollars he has. It’s the scope of what money itself can buy. And so what he’s decided is to use his platform as a mechanism for effectuating his vision for what can and can’t be discussed or should and shouldn’t be discussed online.

He’s one example among many of that other 25% category where they don’t care if it hits the bottom line or not. They can afford that. They actually do want to use this as a you-only-live-once philosophy, to use their corporate platform, to ultimately legislate through the back door what they could never do if they were actually held democratically accountable.

CLAY: We’re talking to Vivek Ramaswamy. I’d encourage you to check out his book Woke, Inc. It debuted at #2 overall on the New York Times. Vivek, I want to talk about this. I came from sprots (chuckles) and I feel like sports was on the cutting edge, unfortunately, for embracing Woke, Inc. You mentioned Nike. Colin Kaepernick is a big part of this. The NBA is among the wokest organizations anywhere in the entirety of America; the NFL has followed behind it.

Even Major League Baseball pulling their All-Star Game out of Atlanta. All of that has been on the front edge of what many other corporations have followed. Do you buy into the idea that sports has helped to drive the cultural move to Woke, Inc.? I see sports fans fundamentally rejecting it, to go to Buck’s point on “get woke, go broke.” Do you buy into that? What did you your data show you about the sports industry in particular, and its impact on the woke culture?

RAMASWAMY: There’s two points about sports in particular, Clay. One is that this used to be the space that brought us together —

CLAY: Amen.

RAMASWAMY:– in a divided polity like the United States. We are a divided culture politically. We can survive as a politically divided country. We can’t survive as a politically divided country if we also lack apolitical spaces that we can still come together in the baseball stadiums of this country, in the football stadiums of this country, in the basketball stadiums in this country. Those are the places that brought us together whether black or white or Republican or Democrat.

I think the divided polity — even a severely divided body politic — can survive. But it cannot survive if we lose those apolitical sanctuaries. That’s the first thing I say. The second thing I say is that the sports associations are among the worse in actually geopolitically empowering China at the expense of the United States. I’ll tell you exactly what I mean.

When you have an organization like the NBA or a superstar like LeBron James, that relentlessly — and I mean relentlessly — criticizes the United States, and alleges social justice here and racism and microaggression here at home without saying a peep about actual human rights abuses in China, what they are effectively doing is creating a false moral equivalence between Chinese nihilism and American idealism on the global stage, and that helps China.

Because now, when Xi Jinping is pressed by the E.U. or U.N. on the Uighur human rights crisis where he has over a million Uighurs enslaved in concentration camps, subject to forced sterilization in what I consider to be a worst human rights abuses by a major nation since the Third Reich of Germany, they are able to say to the U.N. and the E.U. that Black Lives Matter.

So the United States is no better, and that China hopes the United States does better on human rights, which is what their top diplomat said to us in Alaska this month. That would be laughable, if it weren’t for the fact that folks like LeBron James actually come to China’s public defense after Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweets, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”

And so that actually erodes the greatest asset of the United States of all, which is our cultural and our moral standing on the global stage. That’s eve more important than our nuclear arsenal in my opinion. A lot of these sports associations kowtowing to China, bowing to their true Chinese overlords to be able to expand into the lucrative Chinese market, they’re unwilling to criticize the Chinese Communist Party. But they are reserving their moral outrage for the United States in a way that hurts both ends of the trade.

CLAY: All right, Vivek. This is where we get do tell everybody listening, what can they do? I mean, we always say — and we actually mean it from the bottom of our hearts — the sponsors, for example, we have on this show. They’re standing with our message and with our free speech. So there’s an action item, in a sense, of supporting those creators who speak out — those voices who speak out — in favor of freedom and the Constitution and just sanity and public life. But if people want to tackle Woke, Inc. out there, what else can they do?

RAMASWAMY: Look, I think the most important battle line right now is in our schools. It is in the minds of the next generation of Americans. And I think that anyone who is a parent who has kids in schools — be it public or private — to be able to stand up for an ideology that we teach in the schools that ultimately revise American idealism, rather than criticize the United States so much so that the next generation doesn’t even know what those values are, I think that’s the single most important battle line for anybody who is a parent.

Now, I think that there is a lot of people that come out on the side of consumer boycotts. Boycotting woke brands and sort of trying to create a new right-wing or conservative or even apolitical alternative. I’m actually… While I understand the appeal of that, I’m less a fan of that. Because at the end of the day, as I said earlier, if we have two forms of coffee, if we have two forms of baseball — at the end of this — we won’t have a country left at the end of it.

Even though that might be a great opportunity for a conservative entrepreneur, and if this were Shark Tank you have a guy who’s half competent who wants to start that business, I would say, “Bet on it,” as an investment prospect. I would say that as a matter of leaving America better off in the end, I’m not as drawn to that set of solutions, as I am to fostering civic identities. Fostering shared civic identities in the next generation in our schools. I think that’s where I’m most focused.

That being said, I think there’s also some policy solutions that can make a real difference in the short run. You have companies that are using their economic muscle to be able to discriminate against one side of the political spectrum. I say that if you can’t discriminate against somebody because they’re black or gay or Muslim or white or Christian or Jew or whatever, you should not be able to discriminate against them just because of their political perspective either.

That brings us back to Candace Owens example in the beginning. If you can’t discriminate against somebody on the basis of the color of their skin, you shouldn’t be able to do it on the basis of their political perspective, either. Same goes for just as you can’t on the basis of religion, you can’t be able to do it on the basis of their expressed political beliefs. I think we can easily make that change.

Add it to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Put political speech and political belief right up there, next to race, sex, religion. I think that should be at the top of the conservative agenda. I think we have a lot of Republicans right now who are fearful of doing anything that defies their orthodoxy that they memorized 40 years ago in 1980, which is that the free market can do no wrong, without recognizing that the free market that they idealize doesn’t exist today.

BUCK: I agree with you. “Defending individual rights is the opposite of big government,” as conservatives like to say.

RAMASWAMY: Yeah. Exactly.

BUCK: Vivek. Woke, Inc. is the book. We appreciate you being with us. Best of luck and we’ll talk to you soon.

RAMASWAMY: Thanks for having me. Talk to ya.



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