Issue of the week: CEOs spurn Trump
“The business president has lost the business community,” said Alexia Fernández Campbell in Vox.com. Two of President Trump’s business advisory councils disbanded last week in protest over the president’s response to whitesupremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va. The executive exodus began slowly at first, with Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, one of the few African-Americans leading a Fortune 500 company. But an explosive press conference in which Trump doubled down on blaming “both sides” for the violence left executives rethinking their long-standing resistance to wading into politics. After a hastily organized series of conference calls, business leaders decided the public pressure was too much. “They could no longer work with the president.”
“It took the worst of Trump to bring out the best in corporate America,” said Steven Pearlstein in The Washington Post. Most business leaders didn’t support the president during the campaign, but they were eager to get behind his pro-business platform of tax cuts and deregulation after the inauguration. That cost-benefit calculus has now changed, and we should applaud their courageous stand. For decades, the mantra of the nation’s top CEOs has been to maximize profits, no matter the social cost. But “Trump’s behavior has been so outrageous” that even if he were able to deliver on his business-friendly agenda, “customers and employees are no longer willing to accept the moral compromises that go along with it.” One day, we may look back on last week “as a turning point in the evolution of American capitalism.”
The idea that these CEOs have become the “moral pillar of America” is absurd, said David Dayen in NewRepublic.com. “Mere words of opposition do not amount to a profile in courage.” Their firms will still lobby the White House; they just won’t do it when the cameras are rolling. “All their lobbying and favor trading has gone underground.” And big business still has plenty of reasons to love Trump, said Annie Lowrey in TheAtlantic.com. The White House has gutted hundreds of regulations and installed dozens of former lobbyists in federal agencies governing the industries they used to work for. “Individual executives might repudiate Trump, but many of their shareholders are still cheering” his administration.
But last week’s exodus shows that CEOs believe the president himself is increasingly “useless to them,” said Joe Nocera in Bloomberg.com. “He is never going to get anything through Congress, which now shrugs when he demands action.” Corporate tax cuts look increasingly unlikely after the Obamacare-repeal debacle, as does an infrastructure plan. No CEO wants to be a target of one of Trump’s “bullying tweets,” but Jeff Sessions has proven that the angry, 140-character messages emanating from the White House “have no consequences if you ignore them.” At the end of the day, I’m sure “none of the departing CEOs likely believes Trump is a white supremacist or Nazi sympathizer,” said Holman Jenkins in The Wall Street Journal. But “there is no point in taking brickbats for a president who does not deliver.” ■