Watching the nation’s white nationalist-in-chief Donald Trump yesterday was a wrenching experience. Trump defended white supremacists, saying that people who associate with them aren’t all “bad guys” and blamed the “Alt-Left” for standing up to neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Although all of his lieutenants looked uncomfortable, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao looked like she was trying to hide a case of severe food poisoning. What if she, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, and White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly had simply stepped to the microphone and said, enough is enough, we are resigning? That would show some courage and leadership.
But they didn’t. Elaine Chao instead underlined that she “stands by” Trump. That is a moral failing. You do not stand by your leader when he is spouting racist nonsense.
Of course, were Trump’s advisors to complain, the apologists might say, “We need these people to steer the presidential ship. They can mitigate his extremes.” But they can’t. They are helping to steer that ship into the heart of darkness of anti-Semitism and racism and white nationalism. We don’t need anyone to steer that ship. We need a new ship.
Business leaders took up that mantle. The leaders of Intel, 3M, Merck, Under Armour, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and the Alliance for American Manufacturing all pulled out of the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative. Trump at first blustered, but then caved and shut down the initiative rather than suffer more embarrassment.
You know who didn’t resign? Dennis Mullenburg, CEO of Boeing. Perhaps he was too busy with the buyouts in South Carolina after months of layoffs nationwide.
Boeing did not leave the council. It closed around Mullenburg, sparing him the shame of being one of the last few standing by Trump. In fact, Boeing didn’t even have a comment on Trump’s remarks. Boeing didn’t bother to issue a statement in opposition to racism and white nationalism, even though it seemed clear that everyone and their mother thought Trump was acting deplorably.
Like it or not, business leaders are also our political leaders. In a country where money talks, they have enormous sway over our economic future, and our social justice policies. CEOs of many companies have helped protect women, LGBT people and racial minorities – from Google firing the writer of a sexist manifesto, to PayPal pulling out of North Carolina over a bathroom bill targeting transgender people.
When CEOs like Mullenberg are silent, it shows they agree with Trump. Boeing has just allied itself with Trump. Come on, step up. Condemn Trump’s racist stances. The people of Washington gave you $12 billion in tax breaks; show you care about the people of Washington. It is the only moral thing to do.