I thought this day was coming, but I didn’t expect it to come so soon. I don’t believe Beijing expected it to come so soon either: the Chinese authorities were playing a long game, biding their time and building their power, and I do not think they were relishing an immediate confrontation with Western capitalism. But the Hong Kong protests forced their hand. Beijing clearly perceives these protests as an existential threat, and have decided that the moment has come to go all-in. They have pushed all their chips into the center of the table … and the capitalists immediately folded like a Chinese-made lawn chair.
NBA officials are bowing and scraping to Beijing and begging forgiveness while trying to tell Americans that they’re not really apologizing. (Adam Silver says he’s not apologizing for Daryl Morey’s exercise of free speech, but then what is he apologizing for?) ESPN/Disney is muzzling its employees. Apple is banning apps that Beijing wants banned, for whatever reason.
This has all gone better for Beijing than CCP officials probably dared hope, but in fact they held the strongest hand. Tim Cook, who got his job as Apple CEO after spending years proving that he was a wizard of the supply chain, knows better than anyone that China has a stranglehold on Apple’s supply chain, and it would take years or even decades to loosen that hold. I don’t know how much revenue the NBA gets from China, but even if it’s far less than they get in this country, that Chinese revenue can be cut off altogether in an instant; by contrast, not one American NBA fan in ten thousand will care enough about what happens in China to stop buying jerseys and tickets and League Pass.
If nothing else, this whole shameful display should put an end, once and for all, to the ridiculous idea that there is some natural and intrinsic connection between democracy and capitalism. There very obviously ain’t. When shareholders and the bottom line are not benefitted by democracy, then democracy gets flushed down the toilet. American big business has firmly decided for a totalitarian regime and against people who want democratic freedoms. The business of America really is business after all.
But here’s an interesting question: How woke will our woke capitalists remain if an emboldened Chinese regime starts to rail against moral perversion in the form of homosexuals and trans people?
“Believe me, the China situation bothers me. . . . But at the end of the day, I have a responsibility to my owners to make money,” then–NBA commissioner David Stern said in a 2006 interview. He may not have known then where his allegiance to the bottom line would lead the league and the game he helped to grow.
To hear him tell it then, Stern was intent on turning the NBA into an exporter of American values. Under his leadership, the league began its “Basketball Without Borders” program, which initially sent NBA players to run basketball camps in geopolitically tense parts of the world. “NBACares” television spots dominated game breaks. “We’re going to keep right on showing them,” Stern told Sports Illustrated when asked about public annoyance with the frequency of the ads. “Because social responsibility is extremely important to us.”
You know it was an article of faith for Stern that “make money” and “social responsibility” could never come into irreconcilable conflict with each other. No doubt Adam Silver and Tim Cook have been similarly catechized. But their religion is in vain, so what will they do? They’ll keep making money and tell themselves that they are also socially responsible, no matter what happens on the ground. For faith is the evidence of things not seen.
UPDATE 2: Paul Farmer, in Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, on WLs (White Liberals): “I love WLs to death, they’re on our side. But WL’s think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves.” (More about Farmer, on related themes, here.)