Count me out of the rush to praise the CEOs protesting President Trump’s equivocation about last weekend’s racist march by quitting the administration’s American Manufacturing Council. They weren’t working for the president’s re-election campaign; they were working for the American government and thus the American people. Expressing moral outrage at the chief executive by calling it quits wasn’t courageous; it was unpatriotic.
I, too, was appalled that the president would call some of the anti-black marchers “very fine people” and fail to properly blame the white nationalist provocateurs who were truly responsible for the violence. And CEOs with similar objections should speak up vigorously with political action like giving speeches, writing opinion pieces, and supporting candidates who will challenge the Trump agenda and even Trump himself.
But the manufacturing council played no role in American racial politics – or politics at all for that matter. Though the president’s voter base is not well-represented in the nation’s boardrooms and corner offices, our business leaders should see public service, under any president, as a noble calling and not a chance to crow about their political purity – no matter how much they’re right and the president is wrong.
This week’s ostentatious displays of moral outrage accompanied by resignations (often via press release or open letters to their employees) have been self-serving pageants that don’t help anybody. In fact, if all the good people abandon the administration, our nation will be led by bad people for the next 3.5 years.
Rather than face further headlines about the mounting number of business leaders quitting, Trump disbanded the council altogether earlier today. That means the president will now have one less voice of sanity as he makes decisions about the nation’s well-being. The decidedly non-symbolic council reportedly played a big role in quashing the president’s bombast about China’s role as a currency manipulator. Why do the CEOs want to deprive the president of their advice on future controversies – ones in which the stakes may be even higher?
Sure, the Trump White House brooks no dissent, and thus CEOs who stayed on the council may have faced administration pressure to mute any criticism of the president. So? Let the president fire them for speaking out. True courageous CEOs would have continued advising the administration even if doing so made employees and shareholders unhappy. (The leaders of several major companies had indicated they planned to do just that.)
But it’s now too late. The country has been deprived of an important resource in guiding the nation’s economic approach to the world while being led by a self-proclaimed master dealmaker whose passion for smart global business policy is basically restricted to enterprises bearing his name.
Thankfully, there’s a quick fix: nothing would stop the CEOs from reconstituting themselves under a new name on a volunteer basis, and continuing to offer advice to the president – whether he takes it or not. It’s the most logical way to repair the damage of their rash decisions to punish the American people for the ongoing moral breakdown of their chosen leader.