At this point, it’s probably superfluous to point out the projection embedded in Trump’s “grandstander” accusation; Trump, after all, is the ultimate grandstander. But the accusation is actually even more reason why members of the council really need to quit now.
In resigning, they must make a clear, unequivocal statement upholding the American values of equality and inclusion that Trump has long rejected (and mocked) as “political correctness.”
Since Trump announced the council in January, it’s not clear what it has accomplished. One of Trump’s signature moments in his “made in America” campaign since becoming president was “Made in America Week,” during which the White House held a product showcase, and Trump was widely mocked for sitting in a fire engine like a delighted child.
But now stepping down from the council is long past due. Trump’s moral bankruptcy, and particularly his ongoing refusal to specifically condemn his racist supporters, was on display well before Charlottesville. Those resigning from the council this week don’t deserve big pats on the back or a trophy of any kind. Quitting, right now, is the only morally defensible thing to do.
Of course, these resignations will carry any weight or meaning only if the business leaders do it en masse, something they should have done promptly on Monday after Trump attacked Merck Chief Executive Kenneth Frazier, the only black member of the council, who was the first to quit over Trump’s handling of Charlottesville.
In a statement Monday, Frazier said: “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.” As CEO of his company, Frazer added, “and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”
That the rest of the council didn’t stand — right then — with Frazier is depressingly telling. Their failure to do so makes them appear more concerned about what Trump might say or do to them and to their companies than about standing up to his racism.
Trump, in an angry tweet that was far harsher than any words he has had for white supremacists, wrote, “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council,he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” With this tweet, Trump isn’t even trying to hide his disdain for a black man who spoke out against hatred, bigotry and extremism. Everyone else on the council should have quit immediately; the failure to do so was a pathetic abdication not only of the leadership qualities business executives so often boast of embodying, but also of basic decency.
It’s simply stunning that only three other members of the council have quit following Charlottesville. And none of those resigning were nearly as explicit as Frazier. Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, who quit Monday night, said he would focus his efforts on “the power of sport which promotes unity, diversity and inclusion,” because Under Armour “engages in innovation and sports, not politics.” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said he resigned from the council “to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues.”
But thus far, these are the only council members who have stepped down, leaving 19 others remaining on the council, according to a tally by Business Insider. (Elon Musk of Tesla had previously quit the Council in June, after Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord.) Business Insider also sought comment from all the members of the council; 11 declined to comment or did not respond.
Some of the others condemned racism and bigotry. Denise Morrison, president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, said “the racist ideology at the center of the protests is wrong and must be condemned in no uncertain terms.” Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, said in a statement, “GE has no tolerance for hate, bigotry or racism, and we strongly condemn the violent extremism in Charlottesville over the weekend.”
Yet both of them, like others, emphasized remaining on the council to work to improve American jobs. And any of their statements condemning racism and what happened in Charlottesville ring hollow, due to the fact that they remain by Trump’s side on the council. Is it really that hard for them to distance themselves from someone who can’t bring himself to condemn white supremacists and Nazis without his advisers forcing him to read a prepared statement?
It’s long past time to dispense with the pretense that Trump, whose chaotic presidency is dogged by scandal, will actually begin to chalk up any meaningful policy and legislative accomplishments. Making that one’s rationale for staying on the manufacturing council is a feeble excuse for not standing up to Trump and what he has unleashed.