Business leaders and CEOs have stepped down from President Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council after he failed to unequivocally condemn white supremacists.
Ken Frazier, the head of the pharmaceutical giant, Merck, was the first to officially resign.
A number of white supremacist groups participated in a rally called Unite the Right in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, which turned violent. This resulted in the death of one woman and 19 others being injured. Two state troopers were also killed when their helicopter, which had been assisting with the police response to the rally, crashed outside the city later in the day.
The President offered his condolences on August 13th noting, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.” His failure to specifically condemn the white supremacists has been widely criticized even by members of his own political party.
Following Trump’s initial statements, Ken Frazier, the CEO of Merck announced his resignation. He was the only African American CEO in the Manufacturing Council. In his statement he said, “As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”
Trump immediately took to Twitter to criticize Frazier’s actions. After Frazier’s announcement, the CEOS of two other companies, Under Armour and Intel also announced that they will be stepping down. Other CEOs like Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi have condemned the violence but have not announced if they will continue serving in the council.
In a later press conference, Trump doubled down on his rhetoric that both sides of the protests were to equally blame for the violence. He also noted that there were “fine people” on both sides. He said, “You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides.” His press conference has once again drawn criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers like Marco Rubio, John McCain and Paul Ryan. However, David Duke, the former head of the Klu Klux Klan praised Trump’s conference stating, “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists.”
Scott Paul, the President of Alliance for American Manufacturing and Richard Trumka, the head of American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations have since resigned.
A few months ago, Elon Musk, Tesla CEO left the council after the US withdrew from the Paris Agreement.
Our assessment is that during the campaign, Trump ran on a promise of being able to make profitable deals with CEOs and businessmen. However, as more companies and leaders distance themselves from the current administration, it will be difficult for Trump to push his agenda credibly with the American people. His divisive politics runs the risk of creating fissures so deep in the American society that businessmen have now realized that increased prosperity cannot bridge this divide. Having the likes of David Duke and Richard Spencer get center-stage is exactly the anti-thesis of what the American civil war stood for. The vision of the Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and later Abraham Lincoln was to build a country that would provide equal opportunities for all.