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Disney row shows how ‘war on woke’ is shaping Republican party

America Letter: Republicans hit out at corporation’s opposition to so-called ‘don’t say gay’ law

In the years after his death in late 1966, rumours spread that the American animator, film producer and the man behind the concept of the large-scale Florida theme park, Walt Disney, had been cryogenically frozen. The myth suggested he could then be brought back to life if and when science reached a point where this was possible.

This freezing theory has been widely debunked in the intervening years – Disney was cremated two days following his death.

But what would the cartoon mogul – who was a strong political conservative – have thought if he was somehow revived in recent days to see his beloved company in the crosshairs of the modern American Republican party?

Florida Republicans have hit out at Disney over the corporation’s opposition to the state’s new controversial legislation on parents’ rights in education – the so-called “don’t say gay” law.

For many Republicans, when push comes to shove, being on side in the culture wars is more important than any allegiance to business

Last week, Republican politicians backed state governor Ron DeSantis in his dispute with Disney and voted to end the corporation’s self-governing powers around its main location in central Florida that had been in place for decades.

Earlier this week, one of the Republican senators representing Florida took this dispute to a new level.

Rick Scott, a former Florida governor, told the Fox network in an interview that he was finished giving his money to Mickey Mouse – either in person or through his TV subscriptions.

“I got rid of my Disney+. I’m not planning on going back to the park.”

Scott's boycott of the company that employs more than 70,000 people in Florida and is estimated to support the jobs of more than 400,000 others across the state, shows the traditional view of the Republican Party as the champion of business is being eroded.

As far back as 150 years ago, the Republicans backed protective tariffs that helped encourage the development of American industry. As the Democrats moved towards supporting higher spending, increased taxes and workers’ rights, the Republicans were seen as the allies of the corporate world.

In 2017, Republicans orchestrated one of the largest corporate tax cuts in American history.

However, in the world of today’s partisan politics, for many Republicans, when push comes to shove, being on side in the culture wars is more important than any allegiance to business.

It was very different only a few years ago.

The Washington Post last week recalled that six years ago the then governor in Indiana and later vice-president Mike Pence authorised changes to a "religious freedom" Bill.

This legislation in its original form seemed to allow businesses to discriminate against gay men and lesbians.

Key players in corporate America, such as Apple and the pharma giant Eli Lilly, opposed the measure and Republicans in Indiana listened to their objections.

But times and attitudes have changed. Corporations putting their heads above the parapet to voice concerns about controversial legislative measures are now likely to face threats or actual reprisals for being “woke”.

Take the case of Georgia, where several large companies voiced strong opposition to voting laws introduced by Republicans which critics maintained were aimed at restricting or discouraging voting.

Major League Baseball, in response to the voting legislation, pulled a big game planned for the state.

Conservatives in the US Senate proposed in response to rescind an exemption in place for the league from anti-trust legislation which is aimed at preventing monopolies. The exemption allowed the baseball league to be considered as a sport and not a business.

The measure did not go ahead, nor did another proposal, originally put forward from Georgia politicians, to end a tax break generating tens of millions of dollars in savings for Delta airlines, which is based in Atlanta, and which had also come out against the voting legislation championed by Republicans.

Biden, the ultimate target of the Republicans, said last week that the confrontation with Disney showed how the 'far right has taken over the party'

In September last year the top Republican in the House of Representatives in Washington gave a not-too-subtle hint to big tech that they should not co-operate with the congressional committee investigating the events of January 6th that year when a pro-Trump crowd stormed the Capitol.

Kevin McCarthy criticised what he described as “attempts to strong-arm private companies to turn over individuals’ private data”. He argued that this would be a violation of federal law and if tech companies complied with the requests from the committee for the records, a future Republican majority in the House would “not forget”.

The moves by Republican politicians in Florida suggest that the “war on woke” which some in the party have been pursuing has intensified. Rather than just waving a stick in the direction of corporate America and warning it not to get involved in politics, some Republicans now seem prepared to use it to hit companies in revenge for speaking out.

US president Joe Biden, the ultimate target of the Republicans, said last week that the confrontation with Disney showed how the "far right has taken over the party".

"This is not your father's Republican Party," Biden said in a speech in Oregon.

“It’s not even conservative in a traditional sense of conservatism. It is mean, it’s ugly. I mean, look at what’s happening now in Florida: Christ, they’re going after Mickey Mouse.”