You’d think that witnessing the second-biggest bank failure in US history would be a sobering moment. Since Silicon Valley Bank collapsed on Friday amid a bank run, however, Republicans have instead been twisting themselves into inelegant pretzels to blame “wokeness” for the financial disaster.
For context, SVB – which before it collapsed was the 16th largest bank in the US and worth more than $200bn in assets – proudly reported that aside from 45% of its board being women, it also had “1 Black”, “1 LGBTQ+” and “2 Veterans”. According to Republicans, the bank’s focus on “woke” ideals is what led to its ultimate demise.
“This bank, they’re so concerned with DEI and politics and all kinds of stuff, I think that really diverted from them focusing on their core mission,” the Florida governor Ron DeSantis told Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo.
And according to Donald Trump, Jr: “SVB is what happens when you push a leftist/woke ideology and have that take precedent over common sense business practices. This won’t be the last failure of this nature so long as people are rewarded for pushing this bs.”
This is a ridiculous and senseless leap, even for the right. “Wokeness” has gone from being a hamfisted shorthand for progressive overreach to a convenient – if lazy and illogical – explanation for every catastrophe.
Of course, the actual circumstances that led to the collapse of SVB are of no importance here. Republicans have said little about the higher interest rates brought on by inflation anxiety and bad government bonds that helped SVB speed toward collapse.
They’ve also refused to acknowledge that, as James Downie writes in MSNBC, “SVB might still be around today but for deregulation signed by former President Donald Trump that was supported almost unanimously by Republicans (and even some Democrats).”
Look, it’s not easy to decide who deserves sympathy, or the opposite, in this moment. Nobody wants to “side” with a sinking Silicon Valley institution – we’re supposed to be eating the rich, remember? Still, it’s important to remember that while politicians spin this disaster, workers suffer. Americans will probably go without paychecks; some won’t have have jobs when this shakes out.
According to The Verge, “Some people already know their paychecks will be [disrupted]; a payroll service company called Rippling had to tell its customers that some paychecks weren’t coming on time because of the SVB collapse.”
Most of those people aren’t high-flying Silicon Valley tech founders. For some of these workers, money for rent, groceries, mortgage payments, childcare and other essentials simply isn’t coming.
The right has always been contemptuous of corporate solidarity with marginalized people, so their disdain for SVB’s messaging is unsurprising. In a line that truly sounds like something out of an SNL sketch, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus recently claimed on Fox News that SVB collapsed because the bank was overly concerned with global warming.
“I feel bad for all of these people that lost all their money in this woke bank,” he said. “It’s depressing to me. Who knows whether the justice department would go after them? They’re a woke company, so I guess not. And they’ll probably get away with it.”
The New York Post is also toeing the party line, accusing the bank’s head of risk management of wasting time in “spearheading multiple ‘woke’ LGBTQ+ programs, including a ‘safe space’ for coming-out stories”, even as “the firm raced toward collapse”.
God forbid a financial institution be concerned with anything that even remotely falls outside their mandate of self-enrichment.
SVB was a part of a Silicon Valley economic machine that has helped drive the tech industry’s success for decades. Initial reporting suggests that shoddy practices at the bank brought about its collapse; either way, that doesn’t change the essentially sad story here.
As institutions continue to crumble under the weight of shaky policy and a volatile economy, it’s the people at the very bottom of that food chain who will suffer the most. That’s not because of “wokeness”. It’s just called capitalism.
Tayo Bero is a Guardian US contributing writer