As Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was sworn into office as the 46th President of the United States, he uttered the words our nation has so desperately craved over the past four years… words of hope and healing. He vowed to combat the coronavirus, resolved to work towards racial justice, reiterated the dangers of climate change, and swore to act against extremism. Over and over in his speech, he urged all Americans to come together in unity, to create a better future.
While I am grateful for Biden’s message, and while I agree it behooves each individual American to heed his words, I also believe it is incumbent on Corporate America to take the lead when it comes to creating a more moral, more just, and more honest nation.
Donald J. Trump was absent at the inauguration, but still present was the dark shadow of his past four years in office, characterized by lying and bullying and inciting violence. Where was Corporate America to call “Foul!” when people were dying, in the pandemic or in protests? It seems to me that the most powerful players, with all their influence and clout, remained remarkably silent in their condemnation of the former president. It took an actual insurrection – an attack on our Capitol, and on our very democracy – to get Corporate America to act.
Why is it just recently that corporations began to dismantle Trump’s communications platforms on social media, suspend political campaign donations, or request that their contributions be returned? Why has it taken them so long to call Trump out for his lies and poor leadership?
There are three easy answers: one is that the business community valued the Trump administration’s tax cuts. The second is that it’s finally safe to call him out on bad behavior now that his presidency is coming to a close and Biden is stepping in. Third, while corporations were eager to distance themselves from concrete political stances that might alienate potential markets and customers, now the tide seems to be turning, as reported in Vox: “Support for Trump might actually be detrimental to a brand.”
Which means that Corporate America is still floating along with the tide rather than swimming against the current when morally necessary.
This troubles me. I strongly believe that it is the obligation of the private sector not only to play a role in government, but really, to be the standard bearer for morality in our society. Why? Because corporations have power… they have the amplified voices that come from holding up our economy. And, they represent the citizenry of our country – the consumers, the users, the workers.
As a veteran of the Vietnam War and as the CEO of thirteen different companies, my mindset is that we must value country over profits. Protecting our nation, and with it, our freedoms and our way of life, must be held above the desire for profit.
An article in the Harvard Business Review said, “Markets rely on rules and laws, but those rules and laws in turn depend on truth and trust. Conceal truth or erode trust, and the game becomes so unreliable that no one will want to play.”
“It seems that executives no longer run their companies for the benefit of consumers, or even of their shareholders and employees, but for their personal ambition and financial gain,” the article said.
This is not surprising. We live in a culture that values immediate fame and fortune, the fifteen-second Tik Tok notoriety. We don’t celebrate the noble, the educated, and the selfless among us. It follows that our country elected as its leader the billionaire reality television star to embody its highest ideals.
Now that Biden has taken office, I pray we return to valuing science, valuing philanthropy, and valuing the tradition of caring for our neighbors and our most vulnerable communities. To build a better future, we must look to the past; right now, we should be looking back to the very origins of our Constitution, and the principles of our Founding Fathers – those guiding principles such as truth-seeking, respect, patriotism, and equality. For those were the values upon which our country was built.
That’s what we as individuals should be doing, and that’s what Corporate America’s responsibility is.
The obligation of corporations is not only to turn its executives into rich individuals and to provide dividends to its shareholders while it remains silent on greater issues of morality. No, the end game should be for those companies to use their money, influence and expertise to build a better nation, not just a richer one.
It’s a new day, a new administration, and a new chance for Corporate America to do just that.
Written by Dr. Jim White, Ph.D.