My gosh, it has finally happened. Corporations are not only ruling the world, they have a pretty good start on running our heads, too.
Suddenly, every social issue is determined by what the biggest companies in America think about them. An issue isn't really an issue until we hear from Kentucky Fried Chicken, Walmart and Disney Corp on what we should feel when they are discussed.
When did this happen?
Corporations have lobbied politicians for generations, of course, but that was generally on policy that directly impacted their businesses - labor, import law, taxation. Corporations either didn't care about social issues, or they didn't want to risk losing sales of their products by taking public stands.
When the movement to retire the Confederate flag as a modern symbol came up, it was largely not because of civil rights organizations and certainly not because of politicians, but because the heads of Walmart, Sears and other companies said it should.
When South Carolina leaders decided to pull down the flag from capitol grounds, it was when big financial players and top employers in the state like BMW and Boeing had told them they would back it.
Remember when Chick-fil-A's corporate head came out in very public fashion against marriage equality, and pledged to donate to anti-gay organizations? For months after that, some people would go through their driveup, order water, and then yell that a backward company would never get any of their dollars.
And so, we come to debate a new idea - that freedom of speech doesn't just belong to people, but to corporate identities.
Companies like Exxon, Urban Outfitters, Cracker Barrel, Purina, even the Salvation Army have also taken various actions that have been seen as anti-gay.
Apple, McDonalds, Google, Marriott and a few hundred others have come out calling for progressive change to immigration policy (no doubt because they employ immigrants). Companies like Intel, Starbucks, Amazon and American Airlines are making statements in favor of marriage equity (probably because a significant segment of their customer base is gay or sympathetic to the cause).
It is literally becoming confusing to figure out what you want for lunch. Is this taco place raping the environment, or does that burger joint cheat its employees on health insurance? How does my chicken sandwich feel about homosexuality and immigration? Hey, are my fries supporting the military in the Middle East? Is my diet cola properly versed on ethnic diversity?? What and where you eat is beginning to say something about you.
Let's face it, corporations exist for profit. The bigger they are, the more greed is job one. They don't exist to be liberal, or conservative - because being seen as either one is going to alienate customers from the other side.
When real estate mogul Trump says illegal immigrants are rapists, it's because it is going to buy him some votes from people who think the same way. The risk is that for a lot of others, it's going to render his campaign impossible to take seriously, and have an impact on the people who are willing to do business with him.
A company that decides not to sell products with Confederate flags on them or has spoken out on same-sex marriage or immigrant policies isn't trying to be nice, it has probably done so because it has carefully measured the pros and cons consequences and decided there is money to be made in their opinions.
But a growing number of corporations are sort of turning away from greed altogther.
SurveyMonkey comes to mind, donating funds for each online survey people take to various causes. People Water's "Drop For Drop" brings clean water initiatives to impverished countries to equal the amount they sell in bottled water. Out of Africa beauty projects funds health care and job creation in West Africa. Golfer Jack Nicklaus' companies fund a child health care foundation. Juntos Shoes donates a backpack filled with school supplies to poor children in Ecuador for every pair of shoes sold. Sockmaker Cole and Porter used revenue from every pair sold to provide startup loans for small businesses in poor nations. Newman's Own donates all of its profits in the name of the late actor Paul Newman. Those yellow Livestrong bands from Nike's ad agency raised millions for cancer research.
These kind of companies take the step from a corporation looking for good will in order to make itself more profit, to virtually existing for the purpose of supporting the cause they favor.
Whether you want corporations telling you what to do probably depends on whether on not you agree with them. But indisputably, they and their big money are bringing big social issues to the table and forcing us to think and talk about them.
They have surpassed politics in influence over us, and often, for the good.
Newsweek recently noted that "inclusiveness may not be good politics in this day of polarization and micro-targeting, but it seems to be good business."
A New York Times columnist cites "compelling recent examples of companies showing greater sensitivity to diversity, social justice and the changing tides of public sentiment than lawmakers often manage to."
Be that as it may, it is not wise to let anyone make decisions for you. Not presidential candidates, not political parties, not slick campaigns or ad agencies, or even your hamburger, tennis shoes or pickup truck. Or for that matter, your newspaper. Think for yourself.