It didn’t take long for the media this past week to spread the controversial views of Republican Presidential candidate Donald – I’m the best thing to ever happen to America – Trump. Almost immediately after making his racist remarks about Mexicans, his popularity shot up to number 2 in the Republican race for the White House.
To a party with more candidates than Washington has lobbyists, Trump is thought of as a formidable contender who can revive its values and take back the White House. For those who know better, his is the most visible symptom of a political party that is struggling to define itself in a chaotic world that defies definition.
What is particularly damning to Mr. Trump is the immediate reaction from big corporations to disassociate themselves with him. First came the Miss Universe Pageant, then the NBC Network, and finally the big retailer Macy’s, and the backlash is not over yet. No estimates are available yet on the impact that Mr. Trump’s views will have on his future earnings, but I would guess it would be in the tens if not the hundreds of millions. A very costly lesson on who the real power brokers are in American politics today.
Concurrent with the Trump debacle, corporations also took a stand on the confederate flag controversy. Wal-Mart and Target immediately took the high moral road on this issue and stopped all sales of the flag. Then Nascar, with a $3 Billion a year sponsorship on the line, announced that it, too will remove this symbol of racism from all its public places. These were all brave decisions that placed morality back at the heart of corporate decision-making, but was this the return of corporate moral responsibility or was it something else?
Since the 2008 financial crisis, big corporations have been the target of every disenfranchised group in the world. If you talk to a member of any of the Occupy Movements, what you hear is that all that matters to corporations is money. No caring for people, or the planet, and little room for making decisions based in morality.
So, what changed in the last few weeks? Did a moral revival of CEOs, their executive teams and Board of Directors take place while the world was falling to pieces? Did they suddenly discover that their values are those of a Utopian culture where there are zero tolerance policies for racist behavior, or did something else influence their decisions?
It could be that corporate America found its moral compass again, but before you light a candle for their bravery, consider this. We live in a world that is defined by the power of money. The richer a person is, the more admired and the funnier his or her jokes are. The relationship of power to money is at its highest since the period right before the fall of the Roman Empire. Senators are bought and sold every day. Supreme Court judges hide behind the strict interpretation of the law to extend personhood rights to corporations. Moral men and women don’t get elected anymore because the function of the office they’re running for is no longer about morality and service.
Meanwhile, if you’re a high school dropout, and you carry a sign that says, “I will preach your corporate gospel” you immediately get a PAC with tens of millions in its coffers which, of course, you have nothing to do with. You hire the best campaign manager money can buy. He puts you in a grown-up suit and off you go preaching to whoever listens about patriotic values and how America has lost its way . Sixteen months later, you’re elected and all is well with the world.
Now, do you still think it was the morality of those corporations that led them to disassociate themselves with The Donald and the confederate flag? Or was it some game theory genius at corporate headquarters who projected the hundreds of millions in losses if his bosses didn’t take immediate action? If I were a betting man, I’ll put my money on the latter. In a world where only money matters, morality in this case, just happened to be on the same side of money.