Presenting Senator Tomato Soup: What We Learned Last Week About Our Politics

By way of introduction, recall what we said last week as CEO after CEO bid Donald Trump and his “councils” adieu following the President’s controversial comments on race and Charlottesville:

And the thing is, the only conceivable counter-argument one could make with regard to why all of these industry titans are abandoning Trump is even worse for this President than simply admitting that CEOs are disgusted by his bigotry.

That is, you might plausibly argue that these executives don’t really want to quit, but they’re doing it anyway to avoid the public backlash associated with staying on Trump’s advisory councils.

But that’s even worse: because then you’re admitting that Americans are so fed up with this administration that corporate management teams are concerned that people will simply start boycotting their products in protest.

Well with that as the context, consider the following excerpts from a piece by Jessica Mathews for WaPo

The swift exodus of chief executives that collapsed the White House business councils last week reveals a strange and disquieting fact about American society: Our politics works better in the private sector than it does in the public one.

With the exception of Kenneth Frazier of Merck, who cited “personal conscience” for his quick decision to step down after President Trump’s response to the neo-Nazi protests and violence in Charlottesville, these resignations did not follow moral conviction. The CEOs were reacting to pressure from constituents — their customers.

These men and women live in a separate universe from most Americans. They fly in private planes, live in gated communities and travel the world to tend global markets. It has been years, maybe decades, since any of them has had to spare a thought for the family budget — other than where to invest the annual surplus. They don’t worry about the mortgage or medical care or retirement.

Yet as distant as they are from how most Americans live, the leaders of even the largest enterprises tremble in the face of public opinion. Once a trend has taken hold, they know they have to act — quickly.

In stark contrast, the elected representatives whose job it is to reflect their constituents’ thoughts and experiences, to know the price of a carton of milk and how to get a college loan, spent days in stunning silence. With a handful of exceptions, Republican condemnations of Trump’s response Charlottesville were tweeted in the distant third person or the impersonal declarative (House Speaker Paul D. Ryan: “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive.”). Trump’s name was not mentioned. Nor was a response offered.

The firms that raced to distance themselves from the president included Campbell Soup and Walmart, which are obviously vulnerable to brand damage or even a consumer boycott. But even hedge funds that cater to the uber-rich and companies that sell mostly to other businesses felt a greater need to respond to the public revulsion than did members of Congress. Because elected representatives face the ultimate public test of reelection, this seems paradoxical.

But election to Congress is now tantamount to a lifetime appointment. Last year, 97 percent of incumbent representatives and 93 percent of senators were reelected. These numbers (slightly above recent averages) include losses to primary challengers.

At some level, Americans seem to have absorbed this.

A group of New York-based advocacy groups collected 400,000 signatures asking the heads of JPMorgan Chase and Blackstone to resign from one of Trump’s councils. This political effort was presumably directed where the organizers felt it would have an impact: not to their congressman but to a corporate executive.


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