Donald Trump – twice impeached, once defeated for the presidency, four-times indicted in four different jurisdictions, facing 91 felony counts, and found liable in several civil cases – is on his way to becoming the presidential nominee of one of our two major parties. He has spoken openly, and often, about his desire to be an authoritarian leader and to overturn many of our long-revered institutions to serve his own goals (which amount, in part, to seeking revenge against his political rivals).
Make no mistake about it: if Trump wins back the White House in November 2024, the way we do business in this country will change, and most likely not for the better. While Americans might be able to envision how a dictatorship would negatively impact free speech, elections, and the judiciary, we must also recognize the probable impacts on business – small business, big business, the markets, and the very lives of wealthy owners and leaders who might think they are immune to political winds because they are so rich.
We must understand now that authoritarian leaders impede “inclusive political institutions,” thus ultimately impeding economic entities as well. A dictator is unwilling to share power with anyone else (including any that might become wealthy at the start of a dictatorship), and an authoritarian regime “intervenes and directs companies as to what is possible and what is not, placing limits on people’s ability to thrive.” Do wealthy CEOs really want their economic opportunities limited in this way? Doubtful.
Furthermore, a totalitarian government that squelches free press – as Trump has vowed to do with his “fake news” complaints against evidence-based and regulated mainstream media – “inevitably makes it harder for a narrative different from the government’s to emerge, [meaning that] people are more likely to only get the ruling party’s version of an event.” Such restrictions would almost certainly lead to manipulation of the population – us – through propaganda. And we have already seen that result in spades, given that Trump and his allies have led millions of Americans to believe that he won the 2020 election.
We know what individual Americans can and must do to stop Trump: vote against him and others like him who promote the Big Lie and who vow to undermine many policies and norms that most of us believe in and rely on (e.g., women’s reproductive rights). Before we even get to the ballot box, we can also speak out in various ways, financially support campaigns and nonprofits that align with democratic values, take to the streets in peaceful protests, keep ourselves educated about the issues, and so on.
But what can businesses and CEOs do, especially since they often wield more real power than American citizens, elected officials and even, at times, law enforcement and the legal system?
Business owners and leaders understandably do not want to receive complaints from their stockholders or customers about political stances with which they do not agree. However, it is imperative that people in the business sector work on every front to preserve our democratic republic – the beloved system that the vast majority of Americans want. Election Day may seem like a long way off, but the time for action is now – and ongoing – on all our parts. Here are some ideas for the business community, and there are probably many more.
Voting and Elections
- Promote voter registration and voting. Combat the far-right narratives that there is considerable election fraud and that elections are “rigged.” We will surely lose our democracy – and all the economic advantages that go with it – if we do not retain our hard-won tradition of free and fair elections or if their reliability is undermined.
- Promote efforts to expand voter access – generous absentee balloting, secure ballot boxes, early voting, automatic voter registration, and other practices followed by many of our peer advanced democracies.
- Support efforts to allow voters to take time off to vote. In the absence of a designated election day that many of our peer nations treat as a paid day off, and in the face of many states’ and communities’ attempts to limit expansive voting options, we are dependent upon employers who make it easy – and financially viable – for employees to vote on election day. Choose to be among those generous employers!
- Consider supporting ranked-choice voting in your community.
- Consider providing free transportation to voting locations for your employees, especially in rural areas or communities that have been restricting access. Advertise these options widely (and well in advance).
- In the words of a New Republic article from December 2023, “An organized effort should be made to impose economic pain on these Trump partisans [business leaders and others who endorse Trump through endorsements or campaign contributions] unless they withdraw their support.” This translates to CEOs not doing business with Trump businesses and not supporting or endorsing political candidates that receive support from such businesses until support of Trump is withdrawn.
- Boycott businesses that give money to Trump and withdraw support from candidates that take such money. Trump businesses include hotels such as the National Doral in Miami and various Trump Internationals in Waikiki, Chicago, Las Vegas, and New York.
- Boycott businesses that supported Trump in 2020. The list includes the Las Vegas Sands ($45 million), Walt Disney ($10.1 million), and Energy Transfer LP ($10 million).
- Consider advising consumers to avoid the Sands, Disneyland, and Walt Disney World and to remove Energy Transfer LP from their stock portfolios.
- “Individual small contributors could be put on notice that if they give money to Trump after such-and-such a date, they too will be targeted for boycotts; many of these contributors operate small businesses identified in Federal Election Commission reports.”
- Vendors who do business with Trump’s campaign should be put on the same notice; these vendors are also identified in FEC reports.
- Promote civil discourse and decry political violence. There have been far too many instances over the past several years in which rhetoric based on lies and disinformation has led to violence. Make it clear to your employees that political violence in the communities in which you do business, and in which your employees live, is never acceptable in our democratic republic. While we have First Amendment rights to free speech, we have seen lately the limits to those rights – they must never lead to political violence or harm to individuals.
- Sign evidence-based petitions with fellow CEOs and business leaders that condemn destructive rhetoric. Your words have influence.
- Consider sponsoring or co-sponsoring bipartisan forums, debates and programs in your communities that showcase candidates for local or state offices and/or ballot initiatives. While for-profit businesses cannot promote individual candidates, they can offer public events if they are bipartisan. Businesses may have more resources at their disposal for this kind of activity than nonprofits or individuals do, and such events would be of great benefit to the community.
Financial Initiatives: Individual Business Leaders
- Consider donating to President Biden and other Democratic candidates in this cycle rather than just to GOP candidates who have no hope of defeating Trump in the primaries – or who actually support his far-right policies. Many of your stockholders and customers would probably support you in this effort. It is a financial risk, but it may be a risk worth taking this time around.
- If you are a small business owner, do not automatically assume that policies promoted by Democrats or other liberals or progressives are anti-business or would diminish profits. We can learn a great deal from our sister nations, which support small businesses to a much greater degree than we generally do in the US. To take just one example, we are the only advanced nation without a national health care system – and our costs are much higher per capita. If we developed a workable health care system along the same lines, small businesses would almost certainly never have to worry about providing a health care “benefit” for their employees. Trump is already vowing – again – to abolish the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), on which millions of Americans now depend; while the ACA is is still a far cry from what our peer nations offer, it is an improvement over what came before and demolishing it under a Trump Administration would be disastrous for the country.
Financial Initiatives: Corporations
- Carefully consider the products you are producing and selling. If you are creating products that promote the values of a demagogue, consider halting production. We know that Trump makes millions off his swag, and investigations have shown not only that Americans who do not have money to burn are among the buyers of these items but also that he uses the proceeds to pay his legal fees (at least when he actually pays his attorneys). Someone is creating Trump merchandise and making money off it (in addition to Trump). Those manufacturers must examine their corporate values and profit margins to see whether those are worth supporting a potential, self-admitted dictator and enabling vast exploitation of consumers.
- Partner with community colleges, technical high schools and other educational institutions to promote progressive workforce development. The major bills passed by the Biden-Harris Administration – which combat climate change, among other things (climate change being a major denial point of Trump and other extreme right-wingers) – rely on a workforce that will need retraining in many areas that do not necessarily require a four-year college degree. Our sister nations have been in the forefront of this effort for decades, and many companies in the US are finally waking up to this reality and taking creative action. That action needs to be stepped up.
- Pursuant to workforce training, ensure that migrants and immigrants are integrated into the efforts as much as possible. Trump and others on the right rage against immigration and immigrants, painting them in the worst, most racist terms. Immigration is a huge and complex situation that has not been adequately solved in our country (or even in many others), but companies that appreciate what immigrants can offer (and have always offered historically) must work with Democrats, progressives, nonprofits and others in productive ways and not give in to the destructive rhetoric (and even violence) of the right.
- Corporations and small businesses must combat racism, homophobia, misogyny, antisemitism, and other destructive stances that would only get much worse under a Trump dictatorship. Trump and his allies are fond of blaming a so-called “woke” trend in the US that supposedly threatens the straight white America that they crave. It is appalling that Trump is even resorting to language reminiscent of Nazism in 1930s Germany. But enlightened business leaders know that a diverse workforce ultimately helps the bottom line. Such leaders will sorely regret failing to take appropriate action against these radical right-wing trends.
Business leaders are constrained by law and other factors, but there are many actions they can take on behalf of democracy in the dire circumstances in which we find ourselves. Some of these initiatives will take courage, but others are not necessarily difficult. May they use the vast innovation and creativity that is inherent in their work to battle an authoritarian trend that we cannot allow to prevail.