In past decades, conservatism was often about valorizing small businesses and encouraging economic growth. But today’s right appears to have little knowledge of anything about the business world, if it can’t be filtered through the flawed lens of “go woke, go broke.”
Earlier this week, the retail chain Bed, Bath & Beyond announced that it was filing for bankruptcy and that it planned to close all of its stores and liquidate its merchandise.
The bankruptcy was reported in the business press as the culmination of years of struggle for the chain, driven in part by the pandemic, the supply chain crisis, and the slow decline of brick-and-mortar retail. Readers of Bloomberg News’ peerless Money Stuff newsletter are familiar with these problems, which also involved some strange shenanigans involving the chain’s status as a “meme stock.”
“The company got into a bad place due to a combination of pandemic/supply-chain issues and its own management mistakes; in particular, its former chief executive officer pushed private-label brands instead of the well-known brands that its customers wanted,” Matt Levine wrote in Money Stuff on Monday.
But if you listen to parts of the political right, the collapse of Bed, Bath & Beyond had a different primary cause: The company’s decision, in early 2021, to stop carrying Mike Lindell’s MyPillow brand, after Lindell emerged as a particularly unhinged conspiracy theorist in connection with the 2020 election. The company had said at the time that it was dropping a “number of underperforming items and brands” and emphasizing in-house brands.
“Get Woke, Go Broke: Bed Bath & Beyond Files for Bankruptcy – Company Threw Conservatives Under the Bus and Dropped MyPillow Products,” was the headline from conservative website The Gateway Pundit. Newsweek shared a roundup of celebrations by MAGA types of the supposed direct connection between the bankruptcy and the Lindell decision.
“In 2021, Bed Bath & Beyond pulled MyPillow from its shelves,” entrepreneur David Nicholas said on Twitter Tuesday. “Yesterday, Bed Bath & Beyond filed for bankruptcy protection. Alienating your customers has proven not to be a good business practice.”
“Bed Bath and Beyond just filed for bankruptcy,” a meme account called “Meme’n on Libs” tweeted Monday, over a photoshopped photo of Lindell holding a pillow over the face of a person wearing a Bed, Bath and Beyond t-shirt. “Good thing they dropped ‘My Pillow’ in an act of virtue signaling.”
This is, of course, nonsense. The lack of MyPillow had absolutely nothing to do with the collapse of the chain, which was in a fair amount of financial trouble even before 2021. Furthermore, other retail chains — like that noted progressive bastion, Walmart — also dropped the line and did not find themselves in bankruptcy as a result- and even MyPillow itself closed the last of its mall retail locations in the fall of 2022.
This is part of a growing trend, of MAGA-era conservatives having little-to-no literacy about financial or business matters, and only ever paying attention to the business world when it can be used, very ignorantly, as a culture war cudgel. It’s somewhat ironic, for a political movement that worships a businessman to have so little knowledge of business.
A rich example is the recent Bud Light/Dylan Mulvaney controversy, when the beer brand did a one-off social media sponsorship with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, and the right reacted with apocalyptic rage, which included Kid Rock shooting at Bud Light cases and attempts to boycott Bud Light.
This episode featured constant updates on the stock price of parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev, and breathless headlines that the company had “lost billions” of dollars off its market cap as a result of the Mulvaney campaign.
These people seem to not understand that InBev is a massive global conglomerate that owns dozens of brands, that the reaction to Mulvaney was almost certainly not the determining factor of the company’s stock price, that minor day-to-day fluctuations of a company’s stock price aren’t that important, or that InBev is now trading near a 52-week high and has already made back nearly all of the money that it “lost” off its market cap.
There was a time, stretching roughly from the start of the Reagan era to the Tea Party period during the Obama Administration, when being a Republican or a conservative was associated with unabashed capitalism, with knowing a lot about business, valorizing small businessmen and “job creators,” and even “running the country like a business.”
That style of politics had its limits, to be sure. But back then, I got the sense conservatives at least read the business pages and could understand stock charts, and actually knew a thing or two about how the business world works. Back then, they at least had a sense of how to see beyond the simplistic prism of culture war nonsense and “go woke, go broke.”
Expertise and Experience:
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.