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Tina Casey headshot

MAGA Movement Tests the Limits of ESG

Many companies continue to support the MAGA movement, even though it's embraced an anti-business platform that threatens the very core of ESG principles.
By Tina Casey

Advocates for corporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles have worked to demonstrate that socially responsible businesses produce bottom-line results. Nevertheless, many corporations and financial influencers continue to support the MAGA movement, which has now embraced an anti-business platform that threatens the very core of ESG principles.

The MAGA movement and the Big Lie

If there is any doubt that the MAGA movement is a threat to ESG principles, consider its roots in the 2016 campaign of former U.S. President Donald Trump. As a candidate, Trump married the "Make America Great Again" slogan with a heady brew of racism and xenophobia.

In the hands of Trump, the MAGA slogan also became code for the entitlement of any single individual to overpower facts, evidence, and professional experience with their personal beliefs, opinions and conspiracy theories.

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The entitlement strategy began to take shape as early as 2011 when Trump latched on to the “birther” conspiracy. He repeatedly asserted his right to question then-President Barack Obama’s qualification as a natural-born U.S. citizen. Trump brayed about it over and over again throughout the 2012 election cycle, despite ample documentation of Obama’s birth in Hawai‘i.

By election day, he had fully merged the birther conspiracy theory with the “Big Lie” election fraud canard. “On election night in 2012, when President Barack Obama was reelected, Trump said that the election was a 'total sham' and a ‘travesty,’ while also making the claim that the United States is ‘not a democracy,’ after Obama secured his victory,” ABC News observed. 

“Trump even wrote on Twitter, ‘We can't let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!’" ABC News also noted (emphasis added).

Turning up the Big Lie volume

As a candidate in the 2016 election cycle, Trump leveraged the personal entitlement strategy to claim the office of the president of the United States for himself, long before voters headed to the polls.

“Day after day — at rallies, in interviews and on Twitter — Trump and several top backers have hammered the message that a victory for Hillary Clinton would be illegitimate," NBC News reported in October 2016. "Trump has frequently suggested that widespread voter fraud will swing the election, and he has urged his supporters to closely monitor the voting process.”

“In a tweet ... he declared that there's ‘large-scale voter fraud happening on and before election day,’” NBC News added.

Weaponizing MAGA against ESG

The personal entitlement strategy almost enabled Trump to claim a second term through a violent uprising, justified by persistent lies about election fraud.

That was the beginning, not the end, of the threat to ESG principles, as the impact on American democracy has continued to spread and amplify.

Personal entitlement to one’s own beliefs — regardless of supporting evidence or widely accepted social standards — is the connecting thread between new abortion bans, anti-trans legislation, book bans, gag rules on educators, and the hysteria over critical race theory.

Above all is the Big Lie about election fraud. Trump is long gone from office, but scores of MAGA-affiliated candidates have taken up the Big Lie mantle to entitle themselves to office, regardless of the results on election day.

There are no “both sides” to ESG

In recent months, the MAGA movement has also thrown the threat to ESG principles into sharp relief by embracing an anti-business platform aimed at “woke” corporate leaders who advocate for ESG principles.

The anti-ESG movement has already gone beyond rhetoric to attract legislators in Texas and elsewhere

That should be a wake-up call. However, ever since the failed insurrection of 2021 the corporate response has been mixed at best, if not outright supportive of MAGA-affiliated candidates and office holders.

To cite one high-profile example, Home Depot continues to drag the MAGA baggage of co-founder Bernie Marcus, who supported Trump’s bid for re-election in 2020.

Marcus left the company a full 20 years ago. However, his eye-popping donation of $1.75 million in support of the Trump-approved U.S. Senate candidate Hershel Walker this year has drawn new attention to Home Depot’s corporate support for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and other Republican campaigns.

“The Home Depot PAC donated $90,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee amid the current election cycle. The committee recently paid for an attack ad targeting Walker's opponent, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock,” USA Today reported last week. “The Home Depot PAC has also donated thousands of dollars to other PACs that support Republicans, including those affiliated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and South Dakota Sen. John Thune." 

In an email to USA Today, Home Depot spokesperson Sara Gorman explained that the Home Depot PAC "supports candidates and organizations on both sides of the aisle who champion pro-business, pro-retail positions that create jobs and economic growth."

However, when one side of the aisle is dominated by MAGA-affiliated candidates who champion positions that are antithetical to ESG positions, there are no both sides.

All Republican candidates have been tainted by the MAGA brush, but according to data cited by USA today, the Home Depot PAC continues to provide outsized support to Republican campaigns.

“About 73 percent of the PACs that received donations from the Home Depot PAC are Republican... Of the Senate candidates who received contributions from the PAC, 88 percent were Republicans,” USA Today fellow Eleanor McCrary observed.

Democracy — and the bottom line — really are on the ballot

If U.S. business leaders don’t care whether or not the nation morphs into an authoritarian form of government, they may be motivated to act on a bottom-line basis.

A Morning Consult survey commissioned by the organization Business and Democracy Initiative indicates that business leaders are well aware of the connection between a strong democracy and a strong economy.

Among the findings: 96 percent of business leaders say the existence of a well-functioning democracy is "important" to a strong economy, and more than 80 percent of business leaders think that companies should act to protect democracy and ensure safe and fair elections.

With that information in hand, the organization Accountable.US has sent letters to the CEOs of all Fortune 100 companies, warning that their professions of social responsibility are ringing hollow.

That comes too late to stop corporate funds that are already in the MAGA pipeline, but all business leaders can help undo the damage by ensuring that their employees, clients and customers — especially women, people of color and youth — have a free and fair opportunity to vote in the 2022 midterm elections. 

Image credit: Natilyn Hicks via Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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