Trump's cor­po­rate lack­eys

Busi­ness lead­ers ev­ery­where should use their in­flu­ence to stand up to au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ments wher­ever they are in the world.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - Lucy P. Mar­cus

In mid-Au­gust, alt-right, neo-Nazi, and white su­prem­a­cist groups, in­clud­ing the Ku Klux Klan, gath­ered in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, for a demon­stra­tion that ended with a white su­prem­a­cist driv­ing a car into a crowd of coun­ter­protesters, killing one and in­jur­ing 19. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­sponded not by con­demn­ing the racist ter­ror, but rather by blam­ing “many sides” for the vi­o­lence. For many mem­bers of his man­u­fac­tur­ing coun­cil and the Strat­egy and Pol­icy Fo­rum, it was the last straw. But the camel's back ac­tu­ally broke a long time ago.

The first few coun­cil mem­bers who re­signed were la­belled “grand­standers” by Trump. But then a trickle of res­ig­na­tions be­came a wave, and Trump, ap­par­ently fear­ful of a full-scale re­volt by the busi­ness lead­ers who were sup­posed to ad­vise him, quickly dis­solved the two eco­nomic coun­cils, tweet­ing that he didn't want to put pres­sure on their mem­bers.

Per­haps he need not have wor­ried. Yes, some mem­bers of Trump's busi­ness ad­vi­sory bod­ies took a stand. But it was too lit­tle, too late. After all, as ap­palling as Trump's re­sponse to the events in Char­lottesville was, no one could cred­i­bly claim to have been shocked by it. On the con­trary, from day one, there were clear signs that this ad­min­is­tra­tion was toxic. Even the coun­cils them­selves were lit­tle more than a tool for boost­ing Trump's ego, by stok­ing his self-im­age as a busi­ness­man's busi­ness­man.

Yet, while a few coun­cil mem­bers re­signed after Trump with­drew the United States from the Paris cli­mate agree­ment, the ma­jor­ity re­mained, ow­ing to an over­rid­ing de­sire for pres­tige and ac­cess. They par­tic­i­pated in photo op­por­tu­ni­ties wear­ing painted-on smiles, nod­ding and shak­ing one an­other's hands. They surely rel­ished shar­ing anec­dotes with their in­vestors and boards that be­gan with, “When I was at the White House last week …”

Bla­tant ethics vi­o­la­tions? Check. Re­peated lies re­gard­ing ties with Rus­sia? Check. Tweeted threats of nu­clear war? Check. Only when Trump im­plic­itly val­i­dated lit­eral Nazism did they feel com­pelled to weigh their op­tions.

Th­ese busi­ness lead­ers can­not cred­i­bly claim that they be­lieved, un­til last week, that they could be a mod­er­at­ing in­flu­ence on Trump. If that were the case, there would have been some in­di­ca­tion of it over the last seven months. But there was none. On the con­trary, Trump re­peat­edly went off script, re­veal­ing be­liefs and feel­ings that showed him in the worst pos­si­ble light.

In fact, by choos­ing to re­main on Trump's coun­cils for so long, th­ese busi­ness lead­ers im­plic­itly en­dorsed his au­thor­ity, which, as he showed time and again, he was un­fit to wield. For mem­bers of Trump's eco­nomic coun­cils, no less than for mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion, stand­ing be­side the pres­i­dent amounted to stand­ing with him. In ef­fect, th­ese lead­ers val­i­dated Trump's out­ra­geous po­si­tions on a broad range of is­sues, from his plan to build a wall with Mex­ico to his re­peated at­tempts to bar cit­i­zens of sev­eral Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries from en­ter­ing the US.

No one should un­der­es­ti­mate the im­pact of this stance. Trump's eco­nomic coun­cils com­prised the heads of some of the world's largest com­pa­nies. Their ac­tions mat­ter. Their de­ci­sion to as­so­ciate them­selves with an ad­min­is­tra­tion launch­ing re­peated as­saults on demo­cratic prin­ci­ples is highly sig­nif­i­cant – and not just for the US. In fact, the firms that were rep­re­sented – such as Wal­mart, Pep­siCo, JPMor­gan Chase, and Gen­eral Mo­tors – to­gether af­fect the lives of most peo­ple on the planet.

Within their firms, th­ese lead­ers es­pouse the im­por­tance of di­ver­sity and ac­tion to com­bat cli­mate change. They claim to value their role as global stake­hold­ers. They tout their stand­ing in Amer­ica's “best em­ploy­ers” rank­ings. But, by choos­ing to re­main silent about Trump's be­hav­ior and poli­cies, such as­ser­tions be­came worth­less.

In a global con­text, con­tin­ued col­lab­o­ra­tion with Trump's White House should be viewed as akin to do­ing busi­ness with – and thereby prop­ping up – cor­rupt gov­ern­ments. With the ex­cep­tion of the Soviet bloc, no mod­ern dic­ta­tor­ship has been es­tab­lished and sus­tained with­out the sup­port­ing role of busi­ness, be it di­a­mond and coltan min­ing in con­flict zones in Africa or oil com­pa­nies in the Niger Delta. Com­pa­nies like Bayer and BASF (then part of chem­i­cal gi­ant IG Far­ben), Siemens, and the Volk­swa­gen Group are still re­mem­bered for hav­ing prof­ited from their close col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nazis.

CEOs world­wide must rec­og­nize not just their in­flu­ence and au­thor­ity – of which most are prob­a­bly quite proud – but also their re­spon­si­bil­ity to ad­vance hu­mane val­ues and goals. They must stand for some­thing greater than their own self-in­ter­est or the re­turns they are de­liv­er­ing to in­vestors. If the moral im­per­a­tive of stand­ing up to op­pres­sion is not enough to drive a com­pany to act, per­haps the need to pro­tect the com­pany's rep­u­ta­tion will be.

One might ar­gue that, now that Trump's eco­nomic coun­cils have been dis­banded, the is­sue is moot. But com­pa­nies' re­spon­si­bil­ity ex­tends beyond par­tic­i­pa­tion in those coun­cils. Now is not a time for pol­i­tick­ing or pars­ing words. Busi­ness lead­ers must stand up and show gen­uine lead­er­ship, in­tegrity, and re­spect for ethics. They must make clear that they do not stand with Trump, as he drives his coun­try to­ward de­struc­tion.

This does not ap­ply just to Trump or the US. Busi­ness lead­ers ev­ery­where should use their in­flu­ence to stand up to au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ments wher­ever they are in the world. They and their com­pa­nies have never been more pow­er­ful. They should be us­ing their might to fight for a bet­ter fu­ture, not for a seat at the tyrant's ta­ble. Lucy P. Mar­cus, founder and CEO of Mar­cus Ven­ture Con­sult­ing, Ltd., is Pro­fes­sor of Lead­er­ship and Gover­nance at IE Busi­ness School and a nonex­ec­u­tive board di­rec­tor of At­lantia SpA. Copy­right: Project Syn­di­cate

From Left: U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump with a cross sec­tion of his Man­u­fac­tur­ing Coun­cil, now de­funct

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