Trump-era shift: CEOs find a voice for moral outrageLaurent Belsie | The Christian Science Monitor
Corporate America started the year ready to engage with a controversial but business-minded president. This week CEOs have risen in chorus to denounce Trump’s lackluster response to racism.
Not since the 1930s, when prominent business heads publicly broke with Franklin Roosevelt, has a US president seen such a revolt by leading business executives.
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Today, a string of business leaders are upbraiding a conservative president because of his character, specifically his fumbled attempts at denouncing neo-Nazis and white supremacists holding a rally turned violent in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.
In 1936, Roosevelt seized the moral high ground, saying he was battling “the forces of selfishness” and went on to a landslide election victory.
Now, it appears it’s the CEOs who have the high ground. While President Trump waited two days before specifically denouncing the ideologies of white supremacists, the KKK, and others, then seemed to undercut that denunciation in a subsequent press conference, executives made clear their opposition to hate groups and quit two White House advisory boards in droves –a rare and stinging rebuke from the business community to a sitting president.
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Taking such high-profile positions on nonbusiness issues is an uncomfortable position for many CEOs. They want to avoid controversy, but the president’s comments were so out-of the-mainstream that taking a stand against them offered no downside.
“This was a no-brainer,” says Yvan Allaire, executive chair of the Institute for Governance in Montreal. But he cautions that this does not signal a new era of corporate outspokenness, because CEOs can’t say anything that would hurt their company’s value. Shareholders and hedge funds would be quick to punish the stock.
“CEOs are as moral a group of people as any other,” he says. “But their ability to take moral stands is constrained.”