Resistance to Donald Trump started shortly after he announced his intention to run for public office, but it was not until recently that corporate America finally stood up to him in earnest. Even before Trump won the Republican nomination, some powerful business leaders openly opposed him. Shortly after he was elected in 2016, many pundits predicted that Trump was a serious risk factor that should be countered by corporate America. This was followed bywarnings about the dangers of “Trump’s defective judgment, psychological dysfunction and amorality”.
Early corporate resistance
It did not take long for corporate leaders to realize that Trump’s trade wars and love of despots was bad for business. Shortly after his inauguration in 2017, the CEOs of America’s leading corporations resigned from Trump’s business council due to his ineptitude.
Business leaders came together to urge Trump to respect the Paris Agreement. Then after he withdrew from the accord there was swift condemnation from many quarters including corporate America. CEOs also condemned Trump in the wake of the Nazi terror attack in Charlottesville.
Although the sustainability movement is strong in the U.S., it was not impervious to Trump. In the first half of 2017 corporate America stood up in support of both science and sustainability while opposing Trump’s climate ignorance. By August many were openly advocating their support for sustainability.
By the end of 2017 there were hopeful signs that corporate CEOs could be a bulwark against Trump’s most egregious policies. At the start of 2018 there were some notable corporate efforts that formed a wave of corporate goodness. Companies resisted Trump led by sustainability leader Patagonia, which publicly confronted Trump and challenged his administration in court. This optimism was further buoyed by the large number of corporations that stood up to the NRA.
We saw corporate activism during the 2018 midterms that helped Democrats take control of the House. Again there were hopes that we would see an awakening in corporate America. Despite the damage Trump was doing ,sustainability leaders failed to show the required courage, integrity and vision. When they had the chance to stand up to injustice and elevate their brands, most remained silent.
There was very little activity until the summer of 2020 when business leaders responded to the systemic racism brought to light by the Black Lives Matter movement. However, it was not until the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 that we saw widespread corporate efforts to seriously counter Trump.
Recent corporate actions
On November 7, 2020, a wide spectrum of U.S. executives called for a peaceful transfer of power when Trump refused to acknowledge that he lost the presidential election to Joe Biden. Jason Oxman, the CEO of the technology trade association said, “America’s proud tradition of a peaceful transition of power must continue.” By November 23rd at least 164 business leaders urged Trump to begin the transition to a Biden administration.
On January, 5, the day before Trump’s now infamous insurrection call a group of 170 business leaders sent a letter to Congress in which they said the election was over and they urged Congress to accept the electoral college results. The Business Roundtable, which is composed of the executives that run the largest corporations in America, said they oppose “any efforts to delay or overturn the clear outcome of the election.”
Then on January 6, Trump delivered a speech that will live in infamy. His call for an insurrection resulted in 5 deaths and the sacking of the Capitol building. This was the breaking point as companies immediately began to publicly distance themselves from Trump and the false claims of electoral fraud being promoted by the GOP.
After almost four years of Trump’s failed leadership and an attempted coup, companies finally woke up . Now corporations are openly repudiating the outgoing president and ending their financial support for both Trump and the Republican party.
Ben & Jerry’s is a responsible corporate citizen and a supporter of progressive causes, so it came as no surprise when they were one of the first to call for Trump’s removal. However, others who have been reluctant to challenge the president are also getting onboard. It started with a statement from Jay Timmons, the head of the pro-Republican, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) who issued a statement in which he said Trump’s allies are complicit in the insurrection attempt and urged Pence to consider invoking the 25th amendment to preserve democracy. “The outgoing president incited violence in an attempt to retain power, and any elected leader defending him is violating their oath to the Constitution and rejecting democracy in favor of anarchy. Anyone indulging conspiracy theories to raise campaign dollars is complicit,” a statement from NAM read.
Trump’s call for an insurrection has deprived him of his social media accounts. The removal of his disinformation platforms makes it much harder for him to game the system. Twitter employees played a role in that company’s decision to deny Trump access to their platform. Other social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitch, Snapchat, Reddit and Youtube) have also stepped up to deny Trump a platform to broadcast his deceitful and dangerous messages. Trump merchandise sites have been removed by Shopify, PayPal and Venmo. Even the Parler app, home to unmoderated hate speech, has been removed from Google and Apple. Amazon, whose servers host the social media platform, has also pulled the plug on Parler.
Deutsche Bank and Signature Bank both announced that they would no longer do business with the Trump organization. Signature Bank said it had started closing Trump’s personal accounts and called for the president to resign. The credit card processor Stripe has announced that they will no longer process credit card statements for the Trump campaign.
Real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield said they will no longer do business with the Trump organization and PGA of America has said they will not host golf tournaments at Trump courses. Citing Trump’s criminal activity, New York City has terminated all contracts with the Trump organization. This includes contracts to operate the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, the Central Park Carousel and the Wollman and Lasker ice skating rinks.
Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who was one of Trump’s strongest supporters, called the insurrection at the Capitol “appalling” adding “the outcome of the election is very clear and there must be a peaceful transition of power.” Even the Business Roundtable, that had previously supported Trump, slammed the insurrection and the “fiction of a fraudulent 2020 presidential election”. In a statement, they urged Americans to “unite around President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris”.
GOP lawmakers singled out
Some corporations are suspending all donations to those lawmakers who refused to certify election results. On Jan. 7, prominent Republican donor David Humphreys, president and CEO of the 75-year-old Joplin, Missouri-based firm Tamko Building Products, publicly excoriated Republican Sen. Josh Hawley for provoking the riots in the capital. He was one of the first to publicly state that he would no longer give Republicans his financial support. “Missouri’s U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley … has shown his true colors as an anti-democracy populist by supporting Trump’s false claim of a ‘stolen election,'” Humphreys said, adding, “Hawley’s irresponsible, inflammatory, and dangerous tactics have incited violence and further discord across America. And he has now revealed himself as a political opportunist willing to subvert the Constitution and the ideals of the nation he swore to uphold.”
Microsoft employees have called their employer to stop making political donations to Sens. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Lindsey Graham. Airbnb, Amazon, American Express, AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Comcast, Commerce Bank, Disney, Dow, Marriott, Verizon, and Walmart have already suspended donations to those Republicans who voted to contest the election results. A couple of firms including, greeting card maker Hallmark, and the University of Phoenix are demanding refunds from Republicans who refused to certify the vote. Signature bank also said it “will not do business in the future with any members of Congress who voted to disregard the Electoral College.”
Facebook, Lyft and DoorDash announced that they will no longer be donating to the Republican Attorneys General Association after reports emerged that showed the group helped organize robocalls urging protesters to descend on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Many companies have suspended all political contributions across the board. This includes 3M, Bank of America, BP, Charles Schwab, Capital One, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, Facebook, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Google, JPMorgan, KPMG, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Salesforce, Target, Tyson, UPS and Visa. Hallmark, CVS, Delta, ExxonMobil, FedEx, and Walmart have all said that they are reviewing their political contributions in light of recent events.
These companies have concluded that they are best served by trying to play it safe rather than single out an individual or a party. However, their efforts to stay out of the political fray by halting all political donations or announcing a period of review may backfire in spectacular fashion. Consumers increasingly expect companies to take a stand and they risk boycotts or at least diminished consumer interest if they fail to live up to consumer expectations.
“This is not a time to say, ‘Oh, both sides did it.’ What the hell did the Democrats do this week except stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law?” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York said during an interview with MSNBC. “Those corporations have been playing footsie with this administration for years.”
Anyone who thinks this movement is going away any time soon should think again. Organizations like the Lincoln Project have vowed to keep the pressure on companies that supported Trump’s actions. Lincoln project co-founder Steve Schmidt wrote on Twitter that his organization will “be running a brutal corporate pressure campaign targeting Companies, Trade Associations, CEO’s, Directors and senior leadership of organizations that serve as the financiers of the Authoritarian movement that attacked the U.S. Capitol”.
Corporate efforts to punish everyone associated with Trump
The Lincoln Project is also going after companies that are thinking about adding Trump loyalists to their corporate boards. Rick Wilson, a Lincoln Project co-founder, told CNN in a recent interview that they will remember people who served the outgoing administration. “We are going to be very diligent about making sure actions have consequences,” he said.
Forbes has recently warned companies against employing anyone who worked with Trump in the last four years. The article published by Forbes’ chief content officer and editor Randall Lane is titled, “A Truth Reckoning: Why We’re Holding Those Who Lied For Trump Accountable“. In his article, Lane cited the Capitol Hill uprising saying, “Yesterday’s insurrection was rooted in lies. That a fair election was stolen. That a significant defeat was actually a landslide victory. That the world’s oldest democracy, ingeniously insulated via autonomous state voting regimens, is a rigged system. Such lies-upon-lies, repeated frequently and fervently, provided the kindling, the spark, the gasoline.” Lane added, “Hire any of Trump’s fellow fabulists above, and Forbes will assume that everything your company or firm talks about is a lie. We’re going to scrutinize, double-check, investigate with the same skepticism we’d approach a Trump tweet. Want to ensure the world’s biggest business media brand approaches you as a potential funnel of disinformation? Then hire away.”
Trump and anyone or anything related to this administration is tainted. Even before the insurrection, the tide was starting to turn. “People used to fear Trump’s wrath,” a former friend of Ivanka’s told Vanity Fair. “Now they fear his affiliation. The stink of his family is nearly impossible to get off. How do you associate yourself with the worst, most toxic people in U.S. history?”
These efforts target more than just members of Trump’s family, they also target the administration and lawmakers who supported the false allegations of electoral fraud. Airbnb announced that anyone involved in the insurrection will be banned from staying at the properties on its platform. GoFundMe has announced that they will no longer allow people to fundraise for travel expenses to potentially violent political events.
Leading advertisers and other businesses have also begun to respond to pressure from the influential Sleeping Giants and Grab Your Wallet boycott campaigns. As reported by Triple Pundit, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), which represents over 50,000 flight attendants working within 17 airlines wants to deny people who want to engage in violent protests the right to fly by putting them on the no-fly list.
Ramifications for the future of the GOP
Corporations are involved in an unprecedented movement to withdraw their financial support for the GOP and this could have major implications for their hopes to flip the House and the Senate in 2022. This will be particularly problematic for those Republican lawmakers who voted to object to the electoral college certification on January 6, but it will also have a party wide effect.
“The fact that this decision is coming from the likes of JPMorgan and Citigroup, who’ve been the backbone of the Republican Party, speaks volumes to how Trump has fallen,” economist and author Vijay Eswaran told Fox News in a statement. “This is definitely not a knee-jerk reaction against any political party but rather a loud and clear statement coming from the traditional bedrock of American capitalism, which has always espoused Trump as their knight in shining armor,” he said. “In this case, they are merely reflecting the overall despair and dismay that is being felt throughout the American republic.”
Even before the Democrats enact campaign finance reform, the GOP can expect a significant reduction in the amount of money flowing into their coffers. While Republicans depend on corporate financial support, Democrats have become increasingly adept at attracting small-dollar donations: In the 2020 election cycle alone, nearly 15 million grassroots donors contributed $4.8 billion to Democratic groups and candidates up and down the ballot through the online fundraising platform ActBlue.
High profile industries like fossil fuels can be expected to continue to support the GOP, however, if the Citizens United ruling is overturned, it is not inconceivable that this could seriously impair the GOP’s prospects going forward perhaps even contribute to the end of the Republican party as we know it.
For some it is too little too late
Brands wield tremendous influence and they are finally bringing that power to bear. However, it took the storming of the Capitol by a mob of domestic terrorists and the murder of a Capitol Hill police officer to open the floodgates of corporate resistance. We should not forget that many corporations lauded Trump after his election victory in 2016, they welcomed his tax cuts and his deregulatory agenda. Others simply remained silent to avoid potentially upsetting some consumers and an unstable commander-and-chief.
Many companies were slow to realize that standing up to Trump is synonymous with protecting their brand. There is a powerful case that can be made for corporate activism, and those who due to cowardice or greed remained silent or tried to blame both sides will be viewed with suspicion if not derision.
While it is undeniably good that many companies are finally confronting the malfeasance of the outgoing administration and the GOP, for some it may be too little too late.