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A frothy mug of noblesse oblige from America's biggest beer dynasty
A Busch heiress eyes the Senate, BrewDog's missing B Corp review + more!
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Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how I want to open a Fingers newsletter. Other times, an heiress of America’s most iconic beer dynasty decides to mount a surprise bid for a vacant U.S. Senate seat in the great state of Missouri, only to be immediately revealed as the former beauty queen of a St. Louis socialite pageant founded by former Confederate industrialists and presided over by a dude in a Klan-esque hood. And so:
Man, where to even begin. Last week,
Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept reported that Trudy Busch Valentine, descendant of the country’s most-powerful former beer-making family and a newly minted Democratic senatorial candidate, received top honors at the 1977 installment of the notoriously white-supremacist Veiled Prophet Ball. I mean, who among us hasn’t, amirite?! The gala, at that point in its 100th year of haute bigotry and passed apps, is an offshoot of The Veiled Prophet Society, which reporter Sara Sirota describes as “a secret society of Missouri elites dedicated to maintaining white supremacy and unchecked corporate power.” Despite the “veil” in the name, the society was fairly naked in its discrimination at the time in a way that would’ve been tough for Valentine to miss. Writes Sirota (emphasis mine throughout):
At the time Busch won the title, Black and Jewish people weren’t allowed to join the organization; that wouldn’t come until 1979. In 1972, five years prior to Busch’s crowning, activist Gena Scott entered the ball and unmasked the “veiled prophet”; Scott’s car was later bombed, and her house was vandalized.
Sounds pretty bad! Valentine, for her part, acknowledged in a statement to The Intercept that she’d made a mistake in accepting the honor and apologized for past poor judgment. (NB: the past in question isn’t entirely ancient. Per Sirota, “in 1990, after decades of protests from civil rights activists, [Busch Valentine] returned to be honored alongside other former queen.” Trude, my dude, what were you thinking?)
As soon as this came across the transom here at Fingers HQ, I contacted Friend of Fingers and heiress expert nonpareil Meredith Haggerty, publisher of the dee-lightful newsletter Heir Mail, for her take. As Fingers’ senior correspondent for hereditary wealth & privilege1, she was of course all over the story, and immediately texted me back to point out that The Veiled Prophet Ball was in fact the very same one that crowned Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Ellie Kemper back in 1999, a fact for which the ebullient actress was summarily dragged on Twitter 22 years later. History is such a rich and living text, you guys.
More from Haggerty:
Mostly I’m like I know it’s hard for people in positions of immense privilege to understand the fucked-up racist contours of their cloistered society, especially as a young woman in the 1970s — but it probably means they aren’t super-prepared to see the fucked up racist contours of society as a whole. BUT also she’s running to replace Roy Blunt against a guy who actively beat his wife like, recently [disgraced-but-apparently-not-disgraced-enough former MO governor Eric Greitens], so we’d probably be remiss not to check out the fucked-up contours of this Senate race, right now. White power beauty queen from the famous fuck-up beer family might be as far left as MO is willing to go.
“(This is the state that elected Josh Hawley so like… fuck!)” she added. Fuck indeed, Meredith, thank you, Meredith.
But let’s talk about those contours for a second. The seat Valentine will vie for is “generally considered a shoo-in for Republicans” according to The Intercept, but may be more competitive thanks to Greitens being a singular bum. The heiress is one of 11 candidates in the Democratic field, but the fundraising leader by far is Lucas Kunce, a left-leaning former Marine who’s running on a pro-worker platform modeled after FDR’s anti-monopolist/anti-Wall Street approach to market regulation, protectionism, and state spending in key industries like Big Pharma and Big Energy. Contrast that with Valentine’s donor-class credentials, as reported by St. Louis’ NPR affiliate:
The campaign will be Valentine’s first run for public office, although she is well-known in Democratic political circles. According to data from the Federal Election Commission, Valentine contributed $116,000 to Democratic party and candidate committees from 2015 through 2020. And in 2016, Valentine hosted a fundraiser at Grant’s Farm, the Busch family estate, for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
That she can enter a Senate race late with instant name recognition and a big-time bankroll seems a function less of her career in nursing and nonprofits (she has no political experience; to be fair, neither does Kunce, though also to be fair, he’s been campaigning for a literal year at this point) and more of her family’s money and longstanding status in The Show-Me State and the access it’s granted her to party powerbrokers. The woman has an entire nursing school named for her at Saint Louis University, for chrissakes! She may have genuinely come to revile the bigoted culture in which she grew up, or she’s just paying lip-service to progress to preserve her odds, I have no idea. But either way, it sure seems like she’s been coronated/cajoled into the race to blunt (no pun intended) a populist challenge from Kunce: upon her entry, another prominent Democratic candidate who’d struggled to raise even a third of the vet’s war chest immediately dropped out and endorsed Valentine instead. Huh!
We’ll see what happens in the race now that Valentine is a part of it, but regardless, her pageantry past is a colorful2 reminder of several nearly immutable features of our big beautiful bipartisan system. Namely, that money is power; that race and economic class are inextricably linked, particularly in South; and that liberal identity politics often furnish a bulwark to progressive class analyses that reveal wealth-hoarding billionaires as the source of the compounding ills from which workers of all backgrounds suffer. These are not new issues, and they remain true whether a wealthy candidate was a Confederate beauty queen in a past life. The fact that Valentine got milkshake-ducked on her racist-adjacent past within days of throwing her beer helmet in the ring as a noblesse oblige liberal lioness is frothy head of irony on the glass, to be sure, but the status quo she appears to represent is just as tough to swallow.
📬 Good post alert
🅱️ Why can’t I get an update on BrewDog’s B Corp status?
I’ve been trying to dial back on chronicling the life and times of scandal-ridden Scottish craft brewing heavyweight BrewDog lately, because covering every rake those private equity-backed “punks” step on would turn ye olde boozeletter into a BrewDog-only newsletter, and god help me if that ever happens. But this past week, things took an especially strange turn in the ongoing saga a-swirling around embattled cofounder/CEO James Watt, as the company rejected a third-party consultant’s unsolicited “reconciliation program” and accused that consultant—The Hand & Heart, which you can read more about here—of “charging the company to extinguish a fire it is fuelling [sic] itself” by establishing an online portal for former workers to log their grievances.
It’s all very bizarre! I don’t care to unpack the menu of allegations and counter-allegations, but luckily my intrepid colleagues have: read stories about some unusual legal wrangling and latest salvoes by Good Beer Hunting’s Kate Bernot and Brewbound’s Jess Infante respectively.
Here’s something I’m wondering though. After all of this—the worker-led pressure campaign, the BBC documentary, the hiring of private investigators to dig up dirt on critics, etc.—what is the status of BrewDog’s B Corporation certification? In June 2021 the Times of London reported that B Lab, the nonprofit that awards the imprimatur on businesses that meet certain progressive criteria, had put the brewer under review given all the criticism levied at it over workplace conditions, greenwashing, and the allegedly inappropriate conduct of Watt himself.
In the intervening nine months I haven’t heard an update on that front, and my press requests to B Lab have gone unanswered, but the brewery hasn’t exactly been on its best behavior during that period, to put it mildly. So uh… is BrewDog still a B Corp or not? It’s still listed on B Lab’s website, and touted on the brewery’s own. What gives? Given that investors use B Corp status as shorthand for a company’s approximate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) “goodness,” and BrewDog is maaaaaaaaaybe still gonna IPO at some point, this seems relevant! Inquiring minds (me, possibly you) would like to know. B Lab, answer my emails!
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Longtime readers may recall that a year into the pandemic (so roughly a year ago, lol when will it fucking end), Meredith and I actually piloted a podcast episode about wealthy beverage alcohol dynasties with an hourlong meditation on/analysis of the insane reality TV vehicle Busch Family Brewed. Meredith we should bring this back!!!
Well, figuratively, at least.