Those of you who who sit up at night fretting about how American financial institutions are getting too damn woke, don’t worry: Your champion has arrived, and he’s gunning for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. On Tuesday, investor Vivek Ramaswamy, who has been called the “The CEO of Anti-Woke, Inc.” by The New Yorker, went on Tucker Carlson Tonight to announce that he will be running for president in 2024.
If you haven’t heard of Ramaswamy before now, chances are you haven’t been watching Fox News when they cover corporate investing. Ramaswamy, the former CEO of a pharmaceutical company, rose to prominence over the past few years by making himself the face of the right-wing’s crusade against environmental, social, and governance investing, or ESG, the practice of investors using social values to guide their investment decisions.
ESG has grown in popularity in recent years, as big banks and investors like BlackRock and Vanguard have made a swath of (variously questionable) pledges and commitments, redesigning investment strategies and corporate guidance to try and not fuck up the planet or oppress historically oppressed people. The right, unsurprisingly, has launched an incredibly aggressive campaign against the entire idea. In 2021, Texas passed a bill that would forbid the state from doing business with firms and banks that boycott fossil fuels, which has unleashed a barrage of copycat laws in other states and anti-ESG campaigns from right-wing think tanks.
Ramaswamy has been riding this particular backlash with vigor, publishing a book called Woke, Inc. in 2020 and starting an “anti-woke” investment firm in 2022 backed by PayPal founder and billionaire ghoul Peter Thiel. (Full disclosure: Thiel secretly bankrolled a lawsuit that contributed to the downfall of Gizmodo’s former owner, Gawker Media.) Climate has always been a constant drumbeat in Ramaswamy’s messaging around ESG: he has suggested that climate activists aren’t pursuing particular solutions because they would work too well, and that climate change is a “mostly made up problem.”
In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, Ramaswamy, who has never held political office, lays out his vision for his potential presidency. “We embrace secular religions like climatism, Covidism and gender ideology to satisfy our need for meaning, yet we can’t answer what it means to be an American,” he writes.
Despite this leading sentence, and despite the fact that his battle against businesses trying to invest for a future that doesn’t burn the whole world down is one of the main reasons he has a platform big enough to run for president, it takes Ramaswamy several paragraphs to mention climate again—and he doesn’t really get into what, exactly, he finds so offensive or wrong about policies that will fix climate change. (On a campaign announcement video posted to YouTube, which includes a lot of the same language in the op-ed, he even includes B-roll footage of workers walking past solar panels.)
“We must reclaim global energy leadership by rejecting the demands of a new climate religion that shackles the U.S. and leaves China untouched,” he writes in the second to last paragraph, before abandoning that thought and adding in a bunch of other stuff: “We must achieve semiconductor self-sufficiency while vigorously protecting Taiwan. We should prohibit kids under 16 from using TikTok. We must use financial levers to hold China accountable for spawning the Covid-19 pandemic. We must even be willing to bar U.S. companies from expanding into China until its government abandons theft and other mercantilist tactics.” Damn, Vivek, were you running out of space to cram in all these wild ideas? What did TikTok do to you?
It’s actually not that surprising that climate as a concept functions more as a motif than an actual topic of discussion for the anti-ESG movement. For Ramaswamy, businesses trying to do something to stave off warming by removing their investments from fossil fuels, or putting money into new technologies, is nothing more than a smokescreen for other, woke-ier issues. “The E in ESG is really just a Trojan horse for the S,” he said in a recent interview with a right-wing TV network. “The social prong. The environmental prong is really just a vehicle, a vector, for the social prong. What this is about is global equity. It is about making the West, and America in particular, repay its sins of the past for having achieved greatness.”
Even if he drops out of the race sooner rather than later, Ramaswamy’s whole schtick signals a probable new direction for the way the Republican Party will be talking about climate in the future. Gone is the obvious denial of politicians like Trump, the redrawing hurricane maps with Sharpies to prove a false point, or taking snowballs into the Senate chambers. It’s no longer in vogue to flat out deny science that is beginning to inexorably affect Republican states around the country.
Instead, the right is pivoting to a variety of other strategies, chief among them lumping climate action with other “woke” bogeymen they’re attempting to use to rile up the base. It is, after all, the same political dark money forces who would profit most from polluters getting off easy who are also pushing waves of anti-LGBTQ bills and restricting voting rights across the country. Ramaswamy’s presidential run may prove to be nothing more than a flash in the pan, but the ideas he’s promoting are here to stay.