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The Hypocrisy of Marc Benioff & Co.

Corporations being on the 'right side' of the gay rights issue is about elite status competition

Mollie Hemingway points out that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who is pulling all business from Indiana in the wake of its new religious freedom law, has no scruples about doing business in China, despite its horrific human rights record. Excerpt:

China isn’t just a place that tortures people for their religious beliefs. There’s the running over peaceful protesters with tanks, forced abortions under China’s one child policy, and the fact they send people to labor camps for tweeting jokes about the government.

A couple of days ago, the Daily Beast reported on the gay rights situation in China. Excerpt:

The state of LGBT rights in China is abysmal. Activists, in particular, face a slew of problems that stretch beyond the personal and become political.

“Hooliganism”—a placeholder for consensual homosexual conduct—was decriminalized in China in 1997, but things haven’t gotten much better for the LGBT community since then. Peer to peer, Chinese society is becoming more accepting of the LGBT community, but positive depictions of LGBT characters on the silver screen are still illegal. Films in which a major character identifies as LGBT are usually banned, like Brokeback Mountain, or Wong Kar-wai’s film festival gem, Happy Together.

More details on gay rights in China here. It’s not a pretty picture. Gays are incomparably more free as gays in Indiana than in China. It’s not even close.

Is this a problem for Marc Benioff? Is this a problem for Apple’s Tim Cook? Why do they swallow the Chinese camel while straining at the Hoosier gnat? In Cook’s case, it’s money: the $16 billion Apple made in China in the first quarter of the current fiscal year — that’s $16 billion in three months! — sure can buy some Tim Cook silence. He’s pushing around Indiana and other American states because it’s easy. It costs him nothing.

Besides, this is not really about human rights. This is about status competition among post-Christian America’s white elites. Actual harm done to Chinese people, including LGBT Chinese people, by its government does not matter to Marc Benioff & his Silicon Valley friends. Potential harm to Indiana LGBTs — however unlikely, and however minor by comparison — matters because it is all the fault of Christianist Republicans.

I do wish Republican grassroots voters who valorize big business would understand what exactly it is they champion.

What’s more, elites like Benioff, Cook, and the NCAA’s Mark Emmert almost certainly do not know any mom-and-pop Christian businesspeople who might take recourse to the RFRA in the face of gay-rights challenges. Very few if any of us do, I would wager, because this is rare; besides, in the case of corporate, media, legal, and academic elites, these people are Not Of Our Social Class, Dear. But Emmert et al. certainly know many people who consider themselves enlightened, and therefore enemies of such awful bigots. Taking a bold stand against a state law that would, in practice, offer slight protection to only a tiny minority of people wins people like Emmert, Benioff, and Cook lots of credit within their social milieu, while costing them exactly nothing.

Two years ago, the New York Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote a powerful piece calling out the NCAA and Mark Emmert for their sham ethics standards. Excerpt:

“The N.C.A.A. thinks it is the 51st state,” Johnson told me. Its investigators regularly solicit the assistance of law enforcement officials, acting as if they have some kind of equal standing. But they don’t. The N.C.A.A. is not a regulatory body. It is merely an association that creates rules designed to prevent its labor force — college football and basketball players — from making any money. Most of its investigations — investigations that are selective, highhanded and a mockery of due process — are aimed at enforcing its dubious rules.

Over the last year, as I’ve stumbled across one outrage after another, I’ve wondered when someone in a position to do something about the N.C.A.A. — college presidents, maybe? Members of Congress? — would stand up and say “enough.” It’s getting awfully hard to look the other way.

But now, Mark Emmert gets a smiley-face sticker for his progressive stand against the March of Theocracy in the Bozart. How nice for him.