I had a feeling it was going to be a dangerous week. Russian state TV kicked things off with some of its highest profile personalities raising the prospect of “probable” nuclear war but with a soothing assurance for its audience that “we will go to heaven, while they simply croak”. Lovely stuff. Even the consoling thought that this was run-of-the-mill wartime propaganda didn’t last long. On Monday night the “culture war” in the US had its own nuclear event.

A leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision overturning the Roe v Wade judgment on constitutional privacy and abortion rights is a stunning reversal of 50 years of legal precedent. Christian white-wing (or right?) fundamentalists are thrilled. Everyone else is wondering what’s next? Same-sex marriage, interracial marriage or contraception? So much uncertainty unless you’re a fundamentalist. The ISIS caliphate might be gone but the zealous certainty of a  ‘good vs evil’ holy war is alive and kicking in the US of A. Think that’s a bit OTT, think again.

The recently published text messages between the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the then-Chief of Staff at the White House, Mark Meadows, around the Jan 6th Capitol Hill insurrection are eye-opening on lots of seditious levels but the language of Meadows is striking. He describes the disputed 2020 election result as “a fight of good versus evil”. Then he goes biblical with fundamentalist reassurance – “Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues.” Yes, that’s the White House Chief of Staff….. but he was not alone.

Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State in the Trump regime was the principal communicator of American foreign policy as well as being a former Director of the CIA. He might actually run for President in 2024 but that’s not the only battle he has his eyes on. If you think Russian TV is scary, check out this little message from Pompeo to a Wichita church congregation in 2015 – “It’s a never ending struggle… until the rapture. Be a part of it. Be in the fight.” Just to be clear, and not Russian, the rapture is an apocalyptic vision of the future, a final battle between good and evil, the second coming of Jesus Christ when the faithful will ascend to heaven and the rest will go to hell. Who needs Disney fantasies? Apparently, not Florida….

Governor Ron DeSantis, another 2024 Presidential hopeful, isn’t happy with Disney. His recent “don’t say gay” legislation to ban discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools prompted Disney to speak out against this blatant pandering to the right-wing GOP Taliban. Retribution was swift as the Governor’s office announced the abolishing of Disney’s special tax status in Florida. The damage to Disney’s stock market valuation at one point exceeded $60 billion and corporate America is slowly digesting the fact that the ‘House of Mouse’ won’t be the only company who will discover the potential cost of not wanting to “be in the fight”.

Legendary clothing company Levi Strauss has noted that 58% of its employees are female and that it will reimburse travel expenses for employees who need to travel to other states for abortions. Right now there are anti-abortion “trigger” laws in up to 20 US states which are primed to be enacted as soon as the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade officially and permits individual states to legislate. The reference to ‘individual states’ and Levi Strauss whose incorporation in 1853 pre-dates the US civil war is not an accident. Nor is the deliberate attempt by the Justice Alito draft judgment to justify the erosion of constitutional rights on the basis that such rights are not “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” NOT DEEPLY ROOTED. Anyone feel like the quiet bit has just been said out loud?

Individual states are now free to legislate their way to a theocratic Gilead. For investors and corporates weighing up sustainability and ESG principles in their commercial activities and supply chains the implications are far from free. Consider the following probable costs of religious zealotry if companies follow the “S” in ESG and support diversity and inclusion principles…

  1. Relocation of offices out of states which restrict the human rights of employees.
  2. Increased banking and insurance costs as institutions impose tougher terms on lower /declining ESG rankings across service/goods supply chain.
  3. Municipal bonds which are already enduring their worst decline in history are the critical funding instrument for US cities. Bond buyer boycotts will increase borrowing costs and negatively impact regional economies.
  4. US political polarisation is incredibly badly timed given income inequality is at its worst since the 1930s, 40-year high inflation hits the poorest most and so does repression of female human rights. The concept of democracy and majority rule is under real threat from a powerful minority.

If the last point smacks of hyperbole then you haven’t being paying attention in recent years. Putin bullied his way over two decades to mass troops on the borders of Ukraine and the commentariat said he wouldn’t dare. Say Bucha without wincing now. Putin’s Agent Orange made it to the White House but everyone said he’d leave when his term was up. Except the Kremlin puppet kept talking about three terms, and then tried a coup after only his first term of failure. Say January 6th over and over, then read those insurrection texts. Justice and the law will have its say surely….. but, but Trump put three conservative judges on the Supreme Court, all of whom assured us that Roe v Wade was “settled law” when they were vetted by Congress. Say nothing, just wonder why Justice Clarence Thomas voted against mobile phone/record discovery motions without disclosing his wife, Ginni’s, close involvement in attempts to obstruct the peaceful transfer of presidential power? Her text to the Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, in the White House days after the November 2020 election is spine-chilling – “Do not concede. It takes time for the army who is gathering for his back”.

Army, fight, battle, good vs evil, King of Kings and the rapture. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that this is not a sustainable situation for a federal union of secular states. However, in the interim, the area of corporate “good citizenship” and ESG is facing an additional challenging question. Can God and fighting evil be potentially a bad thing???? What an extraordinary question but Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, seemed to understand the dangers of treating extremism as normal…..

“Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary” 

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)