In his recent letter, Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., itemized many concerns I share about American culture today. But what impressed me most about Cramer’s piece was how eagerly he missed his own point: at the heart of cancel culture is coercion, an anti-American impulse to bend others to our will. And coercion comes in all shapes and sizes, sometimes wrapping itself in bills like the senator’s own Fair Access to Banking Act, a shortsighted attempt to force banks to invest in oil and gas.
We call coercion “cancel culture” when it’s a Twitter mob trying to unseat a CEO. We call it “authoritarianism” when it’s the government forcing businesses to bake a wedding cake, shut their doors for nine months, or—dare I say it—lend to industries they don't want to lend to. Praising freedom of speech in one breath, the senator attacks freedom of association in the next, arguing that banks are too caught up in the culture wars to know a good investment when they see one.
It’s fair to point out that banks are uniquely positioned in the American economy, relying heavily on the fed’s promise to catch them if they fall. If you squint your eyes, you can even imagine why someone would think financial institutions should be treated like public utilities. But if the senator falls into this camp, he should use a few asterisks the next time he gushes about the beauty of supply and demand. For all his talk of creditworthiness and lawfulness being the purest standards of lending, I don't imagine he'd object to a bank refusing to lend to a (lawful) adult entertainment company or a (creditworthy) abortion clinic. Banks should be allowed to discriminate as they see fit, whether because of moral objections or because their investment has become a political football. It’s our industry’s job, not the government’s, to tell them why they shouldn’t.
But perhaps oil and gas deserves special treatment. Is it because we’re so critical to America's standard of living? If we’re critical—and we are—the pendulum will swing back to us. That's how capitalism works. It’s the iterative, messy process of businesses falling down and picking themselves back up again until the consumer figures out what it wants. Capitalism will bruise our knees, but we must resist the temptation to use a government-sponsored crutch. Those crutches always come with strings attached.
“Americans love our abundant energy, but not the men who provide it,” Russell Gold observed in his book "The Boom." He’s right; our industry is not well-liked. Can we force the public to like us? No, but we can work harder to tell our story and communicate our value to the American public. That’s how freedom works.
Alma Cook is an R&B singer and the owner of Cook Compliance Solutions in Williston, N.D.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.