Sam Walton’s original five-and-dime, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photo: Erica Pandey/Axios

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — In the 1980s, Walmart was the archvillain of capitalism: the ruthless killer of main streets and mom-and-pops, outrageously profitable and, by all appearances, unstoppable. Now, the 57-year-old retailer has a new role in American society: the anti-Amazon.

What's happening: Amid a decade-long era of heady corporate profits, vast numbers of workers feel untethered, distrustful and without a sense of belonging and dignity. Amazon, like the rest of Big Tech, is being swept up in this crisis of faith, villainized for its very bigness.

  • In many ways, Amazon is quickly becoming the new Walmart — demonized for killing malls, bookstores and toy shops, and feared by industry after industry for the off chance it may decide to swallow up yet another business.
  • In New York, as we reported yesterday, Amazon is the target of a massive campaign accusing it of greed for the $3 billion in breaks it has received to build a new headquarters employing some 25,000 high-paid workers.

Walmart — at least in rhetoric — is attempting to move into the breach. Out of sheer necessity to survive the Amazon juggernaut's retail onslaught, it is casting itself as the foil.

  • Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

The rebrand has its skeptics: Louis Hyman, a historian of capitalism at Cornell University, tells Axios: “I’m sure Walmart wants to position itself as a small-town business, but that’s just not true. Walmart is still a 500-pound gorilla.”

  • With $500 billion in revenue last year, Walmart remains by far the biggest company by sales in the U.S., and is no less ruthless than it ever was, Hyman said.
  • Its own e-commerce business is ballooning every quarter.

Yet Walmart's rebranding appears to have traction: With a network of some 4,700 stores that are within 10 miles of 90% of Americans, Walmart is perhaps better positioned than any government agency, think tank or company to take the economic pulse of the U.S. It is using that on-the-ground presence to position itself as a champion of distressed and alienated America.

On stage at a conference in Bentonville today, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon sat across from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who asked him the ultimate question: How will you stay relevant?

McMillon said: "There’s a strong and heavy dose of humanity in it. ... A differentiating characteristic of our company will be that we still care about people, and they know it."

  • Walmart, McMillon said, wants to be the most trusted company in the U.S.
  • When people walk into a Walmart, he wants them to feel, "I belong here."
  • His themes squarely attack weaknesses that economists have criticized in the current U.S. system: that Americans feel less and less a sense of esteem and belonging, whether it's to a job or community.

Go deeper

8 hours ago - Health

Fauci says if people won't wear masks, maybe it should be mandated

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Graeme Jennings- Pool/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CNN on Friday evening that if "people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating it."

Why it matters: Fauci made the comments the same day the U.S. hit its highest daily COVID-19 case count since the pandemic began.

Harris to Black voters: Casting a ballot is about honoring your ancestors

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris speaks at a "Get Out The Vote" rally at Morehouse College. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Kamala Harris appealed to Black voters in Georgia on Friday, urging them to "honor the ancestors" by casting ballots, and again calling President Trump a "racist."

Why it matters: The U.S. saw a significant decline in African-American voter turnout between 2012 and 2016, reaching its lowest point since 2000. Higher turnout among Black Americans this year could tip the balance in favor of Democrats in key battleground states, including Georgia.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Fauci: Trump hasn't been to a COVID task force meeting in months.
  2. Sports: The youth sports exodus continues — Big Ten football is back.
  3. Health: U.S. hits highest daily COVID-19 case count since pandemic began —AstraZeneca to resume vaccine trial in U.S.How to help save 130,000 lives.
  4. Retail: Santa won't greet kids at Macy's this year.
  5. World: Spain and France exceed 1 million cases.